Seniors vote from home

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Joy Parker Orr, 72, of Village Manor has been voting since she was 21 years old, back before the voting age was lowered to18, and she's not about to stop voting.

"That's a long time to be voting," Orr said last week in her apartment at the assisted living center on Tiger Boulevard. "I don't think I've ever missed one" opportunity to vote, she said after filling out a paper ballot in the Democratic primary for president.

"I don't mind you knowing that," she said, fully aware that since there's only one candidate on the Democratic primary ballot she was voluntarily revealing her vote on her constitutionally protected secret ballot.

"I want that one name to know that I voted for him," Orr said.

Although she never spoke the president's name, it's clear she voted to nominate Barack Obama to run for a second term. "It's not that he's running unopposed [in the primary.] It's that he will have my vote in the general election," she said.

"You've got to tell them in the primary how you vote," Orr said.

That's the system for voting in a primary, even when Orr voted with help from Mike Sherrell and Becky Stockman, county poll workers delivering ballots to residents of assisted living centers. They were at Village Manor on Thursday, and Tuesday they were serving voters living at NHC on Mooresville Highway, also known as Merihil.

Orr is the widow of Robert Orr, the independent insurance agent who had his agency's office on First Avenue. It was sold to Grover Collins' agency. Robert Orr and Collins are former chairmen of the Marshall County Democratic Party.

To vote in a primary, registered voters must decide whether they're going to vote in the Republican Primary, or the primary for Democrats. Independents don't have a primary.

"Where I came from, you had to stand in a different line" to vote in the different political parties' primaries, Sherrell told about 32 people at this month's meeting of the Marshall County Republican Party. Tennessee doesn't require that.

County election offices in Tennessee do, however, maintain records on who received a ballot to vote in the Democrat and Republican primaries. It's the only public record that would reflect someone's party affiliation. Ultimately, it only shows who voted in one primary or the other.

Earlier this month, it was revealed by a state Democratic Party spokesman that Democrats in Marshall County had not elected officers for this current two-year period. Only two or three other counties have Democrats who'd not elected county party officers, a fact that Orr realized and she didn't mind commenting on the subject.

"You need two good parties to work off each other to exchange ideas," she said. "You can't run a country one-sided. You have to have ideas that come together and work together, and work for the good of all the people in the country.

"I was never in the leadership" of the county party, she said. "I helped with the fish fries, bean suppers and the country ham breakfasts, sometimes."

As for the lack of officers for a Democratic Party in the county, Orr said, "Democrats are a disorganized bunch. Just because they are Democrat, that makes them that way.

"They're just not" organized, she emphasized. "But they're trying to get that back together again."

She knows because she's talked with some of them.

"Vernell Marshall (a retired teacher and community activist) called me," Orr said. "They do have a little organization back together again. They had become disorganized in recent years, but they are getting back together.

"When my husband and Grover Collins were chairmen over the years, there were a lot of people who were coming to the meetings" of that political party, she said.

Asked about whether she believes there's a shift in county residents' political affiliation, Orr replied, "I don't know about the county, but I know the state, like the other southern states, is going Republican."

County election officials are selected on the basis of their party affiliation, and it's to be split. For example, Sherrell was the Republican helping seniors vote. Stockman was the Democrat helping seniors vote.

Orr said she didn't mind that the Republican party chairman was there when she voted early from her apartment.

"No," she said. "That's what makes us democratic."

That's democratic with a lower-case d.

"I just moved in here in November," Orr said while seated in her own chair at her own table among other items of family furnishings.

"Normally, I would vote at the polls and early," she said. "It was convenient" to vote from her living room.