State Elections Commission ousts commissioner for strip search joking

The State Election Commission voted Monday to remove Putnam Election Commissioner Terry Herrin from office after testimony citing his repeated joking about a woman election office employee facing a strip search, reports the Cookeville Herald Citizen.

The removal followed a couple of hours of testimony from three members of the Putnam Election Commission and four election office staff members.

The comments stem from an incident in 2014 in which a member of the election office staff accompanied Herrin to the Putnam County Jail to assist in inmate voting.

“He (Herrin) said to me, ‘You know, you have to get strip searched,’ and I’m pretty sure my face dropped, and I thought, I can’t do this,” an election office employee told members of the SEC Monday.

The employee said she thought Herrin was joking, but after she parked the car and met Herrin inside the jail, she said that the deputy said, “We’re going to vote in this room, but first we have to do a strip search.”

“I started to have a panic attack,” the employee recalled. “Then everyone started laughing.”

The employee said that Herrin continued to tell the story about the strip search joke, which was corroborated by other staff and election commissioners who testified during Monday’s hearing.

The employee said that during last year’s June seminar for election commissioners and election personnel that Herrin told the story again.

“He (Herrin) was talking to a commissioner from a different county,” she said. “I said, ‘Please don’t tell the story anymore.’ I didn’t know the man. I was so embarrassed.”

Herrin recounted a slightly different version of the conversation described by the employee.

“A lot of things said here have been hearsay,” Herrin said. “When I found out it bothered her, I went and apologized to her. They may forget that.”

In reference to the strip search conversation at the jail, Herrin said, “What I said was, ‘I’m going to wear old clothes. I hope they don’t strip search me.’ … I haven’t done anything wrong.”

…Several of the seven members of the SEC expressed concern that the alleged behavior and joke went on for as long as it did.

“An incident like this should not go on this long,” Commissioner Donna Barrett of Murfreesboro said. “Employees who have a problem should take it to their employer. The longer it goes on, the worse it is.”

Commissioner Tom Wheeler suggested that they need to address these issues in upcoming election training seminars.

“This kind of thing needs to be dealt with swiftly,” Wheeler said. “Throughout this testimony, I’ve thought of my own daughters. This isn’t very pleasant.”

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