Non-resident voters stir up liquor controversy in Pigeon Forge

1:36 AM, Feb 23, 2013   |    comments
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Nearly 100 additional non-resident property owners have registered to vote in the March liquor by the drink referendum in Pigeon Forge since the previous election in November. That's about the same number as the margin of victory for the referendum.

Anti-liquor activists say these registrations are illegal, but the city's charter states otherwise.

Early voting is underway and the battle between pro and anti liquor groups hasn't gotten any less heated.

This go around, Concerned Churches and Citizens of Pigeon Forge, CCCPG, claims that people are registering to vote who shouldn't be.

A judge threw out November's decision allowing liquor by the drink. The judge ruled that the vote was flawed after CCCPG filed a lawsuit. He set a new ballot measure for March 14th. The lawsuit brought out that 300 more people voted than there are residents who were registered.

"What we believe is not only unethical but also illegal, is these one percent voters," said Jess Davis, chairman of CCCPG.

The group's campaign calls them "one percenters", or people who have registered to vote but who only own a small percentage of a piece of property within the city.

"We just do not think it's right when a one percent owner for no investment from West Knoxville can come in here and cancel out a 100 percent owner," Davis said.

But according to the city charter and the Sevier County Election Commission's attorney, non-resident property owners voting is not illegal.

State law says cities can have a clause in their city charter that says non-residents who have a deeded interest in the property can vote, no matter what percentage of ownership. The stipulation is you can only have two people per parcel.

Pro-liquor group Forging Ahead says they are making sure those property owners know they can have a say in this election.

"Have we been involved in registering property rights owners? Absolutely. Whether or not they've done the quit claim deeds or not, we've simply been involved in registering them to vote just like we have the residents of Pigeon Forge," said Ken Maples with Forging Ahead.

Right now, there are 371 non-residents with varying percentages of ownership registered to vote in Pigeon Forge. That's about 100 more than during the November election.

"The more folks we can get involved, we think the better off we're going to be," said Maples.

Both sides will continue to campaign through the election on March 14th.

Forging Ahead is having a voting rally Saturday at Mellow Mushroom on the Parkway from 9:30-11:00 a.m.

Early voting runs through March 9th. City residents can vote at the Sevier County Election Commission Office.

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