Corporations are voters, too

Fascinating story out of Pigeon Forge, where liquor-by-the-drink was approved by 100 votes in a November referendum:

Yet there were 303 more votes cast in the election than there were qualified Pigeon Forge residents or property owners who signed in at the polls to vote. Most of those are now known to have been cast at the Pigeon Forge City Hall polling place, said Dennis Francis, attorney for the Sevier County Election Commission.

"I think the number (of improper votes) will actually be lower than 303, but not significantly lower," Francis said. "It is my understanding that most, if not all, of those extra votes will be from county voters who live outside Pigeon Forge but were allowed to vote in the city referendum."

Pigeon Forge City Hall is a split precinct. Besides city voters, many county residents who live outside the city vote there in countywide, state and national elections.

In sworn depositions, poll workers say they were instructed to allow nonresidents to vote in the referendum, that many who did not live in the city were given liquor by the drink ballots, and that there was a lot of confusion that day because different ballots were required for combinations of races.

"I'm sure that contributed to the problem," Francis said. "I cannot disagree with (poll workers' statements) that it was a chaotic and confusing day."

Sevier County property records show some spurious land transactions that were the basis of votes cast by more than a dozen nonresidents who voted as property owners. The votes were perfectly legal, according to state election officials, even though the property ownership claimed by those voters was a 1 percent interest in extremely valuable commercial properties.

Those interests were given — for free — shortly before the election, by four Knoxville-based corporations with numerous links to developers and restaurant businesses in Pigeon Forge.