Parking reduced at New Harvest early voting location

By Steve Hunley, Publisher

It is a shame how few people vote in City of Knoxville elections.  That trend has been spiraling steadily downward in recent years.  Considering that, you’d think the Knox County Election Commission would try and make early voting as convenient as possible for folks.  That certainly wasn’t the case when I went to New Harvest Park last Thursday afternoon.  I was astonished to see a plethora of folks selling produce, as well as food trucks taking up parking spaces on the upper tier of parking right next to the building where the voting was taking place.  With a Knox County Parks and Recreation vehicle blocking another exit, with the added precaution of having set out traffic cones, it left little room for cars to maneuver in the area where the voting was occurring.  On the lower tier the parking lot, a canopy tent was set up for mayoral candidate Eddie Mannis which was well outside the 100 feet marker where candidates are allowed to greet voters.  When compared to the tents occupied by the produce people, the Mannis tent looked like a small outpost in the desert. Cliff Rodgers, administrator of elections for Knox County, personally came out to the view the situation while I was there.  Much to my surprise, Rodgers stated there had been no complaints, except about the location of the Mannis tent.  Considering the produce folks were occupying a vast territory on the upper tier where voting was taking place compared to the couple of spaces taken up by the Mannis tent, I wondered if Cliff was seeing the same thing I was.

It was clear to me in the couple of hours I was there before Cliff arrived that some folks coming to vote, especially elderly folks, were overwhelmed or otherwise put off by the difficulty of parking near the building where voting was taking place.  There is a wonderful pavilion which was unused on the site, as well as other areas that were already covered to accommodate the vendors. I also wondered why the produce vendors weren’t given the space that was designed for them when the park was built. I also wondered if that space wasn’t adequate why weren’t they given the space they needed on the lower tier of parking, rather than the upper tier, which should have been used for parking for voters.

Mike Donila, the public relations person for the Knox County Parks and Recreation Department, came down to view the site and aside from being dead rude, missed the point of adequate ingress and egress and convenient parking for voters entirely. (Donila did apologize for his rudeness to me before I left the premises.)

I realize how difficult it is for the election commission to select appropriate sites for early voting locations and know it is not easy.  It seems to me the priority should be the convenience of the voters and it isn’t going to really inconvenience anybody wanting to buy corn or squash to walk down a few steps or park on the second tier. There is no reason that both activities, voting and market day, cannot coexist without one inconveniencing the other.

The situation at New Harvest Park tells me the election commission needs more in the way of conversation or collaboration with the Parks and Recreation Department regarding the potential problems of ingress and egress for voters on produce Thursdays.

Rodgers said neither he nor his personnel had no other complaints.  Well, Cliff, you do now and this article is my complaint.  Let’s work together to make this as easy on the voters as possible during early voting.

You can see more pictures of the New Harvest Park parking situation at