[Image courtesy of ghp1]

In recent years, as elections have grown more contested, it is common for parties and candidates to retain counsel – or “lawyer up” – in an effort to resolve disputes. This week, Davidson County, TN’s election chief is also lawyering up after the state announced that it is reviewing the County’s election performance in 2012. The Tennessean has more:

State officials are reviewing the Davidson County Election Commission’s management of last year’s elections — apparently an unprecedented move — and the county election administrator said he’s hired his own attorney to help him respond …

The five-member election commission met Friday for the first time since state lawmakers appointed four new members and a day after Metro released an audit that generally gave Tieche and his staff high marks.

But the state Division of Elections is also taking a look at the commission’s work last year, when Tieche failed to open the polls on a Saturday during early voting for the presidential primary, drawing a state reprimand; machines sometimes defaulted to the Republican ballot during the August primary, and shortages of poll workers, printed forms, parking and phone lines affected customer service in November.

According to Tieche, the state’s examination of the 2012 elections appears to focus in large part on him, leading him to seek counsel:

Tieche said a draft of the state’s report frequently focuses on him. He declined to make it available to The Tennessean, saying it’s not a public record until he and the commission have a chance to respond. He said he didn’t think the state has ever examined any county in that way.

To help with his response, Tieche has hired Art McClellan, a Gallatin attorney and former chairman of the Sumner County Election Commission. Some of the Davidson County election commissioners seemed to be caught off guard by that admission, since the Metro Law Department regularly advises the agency.

The commission ultimately voted to require Tieche and McClellan to run their response by the Metro attorneys before sending it to the state.

Davidson County has already had fallout from last year’s elections; this report follows the replacement last month of the three Republican members of the County Board of Elections – in part because of issues with the 2012 vote.

In addition, Tennessee has already had high-profile disputes about county election officials; a few years ago, several election administrators were dismissed when partisan control of their county election boards changed, leading to litigation about whether election officials serve at the pleasure of their boards or must be dismissed for cause.

It will be worth watching how this conflict plays out. While election officials can and should be held accountable for their work, the current situation – with looming state and local friction and the increasing likelihood of legal action as a result – doesn’t necessarily bode well for an orderly and reasonable result.

This one is definitely worthy of a “stay tuned.”