A ‘crazy’ finish in Rick Staples’ race and your full Knox County election roundup

“Things are just a little crazy right now.”

Those were the words spoken by Sam McKenzie early Friday morning, a few minutes after notching a 23-vote lead over fellow-Democrat Matthew Park in the District 15 State House race, according to unofficial returns.

McKenzie’s words echoed for much of Thursday. In a year where nothing is the same and the coronavirus pandemic forced voters to rethink their voting plans, and slowed the flow of results after, things might as well have ended a little crazy.

Here is a roundup to help put it all together.

A wild ride for TN-15

McKenzie, a former Knox County and KUB commissioner, and his wife, Gwen, the vice mayor of the Knoxville City Council, were like everyone else Thursday night as they refreshed their screens as election results were slow to come in.

The margin between Park and McKenzie was razor thin all night. First it was McKenzie. Then it was Park. Then it was McKenzie. Then there were three precincts left with McKenzie up 24 votes. Then it was over.

District 15 race: Rick Staples out; Sam McKenize leads Matthew Park by 23 votes in returns

“To be honest, if I was Matthew I wouldn’t concede yet,” he said.

Both men bested the incumbent. State Rep. Rick Staples had his work cut out for him when McKenzie decided to run, to be sure. His well-publicized campaign finance issues did him no favors. Friday morning, McKenzie said it came down to trust and accountability.

What happens next?

Thursday’s results do not include roughly 226 provisional ballots – typically ballots that are cast by a voter whose registration cannot be confirmed. Likely, Knox County Elections Administrator Chris Davis said, it will be people who requested an absentee ballot who didn’t return it in time. Not all of the provisional ballots will be confirmed, and it is not yet clear how many will be from District 15.

That process begins Friday when the Knox County Election Commission’s provisional ballot board reviews them. By the end of the day, he said, the Election Commission should know how many provisional ballots belong to District 15.

If the number is less than 23 (the number Park is down), the results of the ballots won’t change the outcome of the race. This is what happened in 2018 when the Knox County GOP mayoral race came down between County Commissioner Brad Anders and Glenn Jacobs. Jacobs ended up winning that race by 23 votes.

If the number is greater than 23, things could get interesting Tuesday when the Election Commission votes on the ballots which should be included. Regardless, Park will have his work cut out for him and would have to win at least 23 votes without McKenzie winning any.

Other takeaways

Paper ballots work, voting down slightly

COVID-19 changed plenty of election day routines including the county’s new paper ballot voting system. Overall though, the process and work with the new machines was seamless.

Davis told Knox News early Friday morning he was not aware of any significant election day snag in the system.

The first unofficial count shows 5,773 fewer voters cast their ballots Thursday compared to this time in 2018 (the last state primary and county general election). It was assumed that this year’s pace would surpass 2018’s since early voting and absentee balloting were over 46,500.

Possibly a combination of COVID-19 fears and strong lunchtime rain for much of the city played a factor.

First woman will be elected in First Congressional District

Whether it’s Kingsport pharmacist and President Donald Trump-backer Diana Harshbarger or her Democratic opponent, Air Force veteran and small business owner, Blair Walsingham, Upper East Tennessee will be electing a woman to Congress for the first time in history.

More: Diana Harshbarger wins GOP nomination in race to replace Rep. Phil Roe

Harshbarger outlasted a field of over a dozen Republicans to secure the GOP nomination.

The winner will follow Phil Roe who announced he would retire at the end of the year.

Burchett and Hoyos, round two

U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett ran unopposed in his first time back on the GOP ticket after voters sent him to Washington two years ago. Renee Hoyos, for her part, easily dispatched Chance Brown who had stopped campaigning and supported Hoyos instead.

So, round two it is.

Georgiana Vines: Hoyos is raising more money than Burchett, but can it make a difference?

In round one, Burchett practically doubled Hoyos’ vote total, garnering nearly 66%. To this point, this time, Hoyos has been out-fundraising the congressman, though Burchett had more cash on hand at the end of the last reporting period, $439,445 – $202,650.

Familiar names win State House GOP primaries

Michele Carringer and Eddie Mannis will advance to the November election for state representative seats and will replace longtime State Rep. Bill Dunn and Martin Daniel, respectively.

Carringer, a Knox County Commissioner, bested former School Board Chairman Patti Bounds. She will face non-profit leader Elizabeth Rowland, the Democratic nominee, in November.

More: Michele Carringer, Eddie Mannis are Republican nominees for state representative seats

Mannis is a former candidate for Knoxville mayor, a former Mayor Madeline Rogero administrator and a Knoxville business owner. He squeaked by Republican Gina Oster by 99 votes, according to unofficial returns. He will face attorney Virginia Couch in November.

Knox Dems pick up a seat on Commission

There were new faces on the ballot across the county and before it was all said and done, there was a change in the makeup of the County Commission.

The Commission came into the evening with a single Democratic seat that was up for grabs with an independent and left it with two.

More: Lutton wins public defender race, Buuck wins law director in Knox County general election

Democrat Dasha Lundy smoked Independent Reginald Jackson to retain the Commission’s Democrat 1st District seat. Then Democrat Courtney Durrett beat Republican Grant Rosenberg by nearly 9 points, a small surprise in the North Knoxville 2nd District.

Beyond that, Republicans won.

Kyle Ward knocked off Democrat Todd Frommeyer by in the 4th District and John Schoonmaker held onto his 5th District by defeating Democrat Kimberly Peterson.

Early results showed Republican David Buuck defeating Independent Jackson Fenner to become Knox County’s next law director and interim public defender Eric Lutton, a Republican, besting Independent Sherif Guindi.

Email Tyler Whetstone at tyler.whetstone@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @tyler_whetstone. If you enjoy Tyler’s coverage, support strong local journalism by subscribing.

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