Local News

State Board Of Elections Officially Removes Warren County Official

Posted October 19, 2004 5:54 a.m. EDT

— Warren County faces a dilemma just weeks away from the November elections: It has no elections director and no board chairman.

For months, Mary Sommerville served in both positions, something the State Board of Elections says was against its policy. The state board was also concerned that volunteers had access to highly sensitive voter registration information.

The State Board of Elections held a hearing Tuesday at the Warren County Courthouse to officially dismiss Sommerville as both board chairman and the county's interim director. She had already been suspended from both roles.

Citing mistakes in election procedures and an upcoming election that promises several tight races, State Elections Deputy Director Johnnie McLean said the board could not afford any mistakes in the Warren County office.

"Any indication that a board of elections is less than forthcoming with the administration of the elections is not good for the voters nor for the state," McLean said.

Somerville responded by saying she hasn't been given a fair hearing.

"I hereby object to this process and request a continuance so I may prepare my defense and secure witnesses on my behalf," Somerville said.

State board chairman Larry Leake denied her request. The vote to remove Somerville from the county elections board was unanimous.

The courtroom was packed with local citizens who thought Somerville was doing a good job. However, no public comment was allowed.

"It was a public lynching," said Jan Humphries, a Warren County commissioner. "I'm sure the rope around Mrs. Sommerville's neck is extremely tight at this point."

"I view today's hearing of Goliath coming into Warren County with six bureaucrats to hang an individual," said Howard Smith, a courtroom observer.

During the upcoming election, the state plans to uses its own staff members to carry out the director's duties. The state board will pick Somerville's replacement later this week.