HUNTSVILLE — Although he has been mum on his election plans, Anthony Lay appears to be campaigning as normal ahead of the Aug. 2 general election. That likely signifies a looming write-in candidacy for the former sheriff.
Lay, who filed paperwork to appear on the ballot in the Scott County Sheriff’s race in the August election before the Tennessee P.O.S.T. Commission judged that he did not meet the residency requirement set forth by state law, has been mulling his options since losing an appeal before the commission on April 10.
The former sheriff, who was elected in 2006 and was a candidate for re-election in 2010 before resigning the office to take a position with the U.S. Marshal Service, filed his voter registration paperwork in Scott County on April 6, 2017 — one day short of one year prior to the deadline for qualifying, which was April 5, 2018. State law does not require sheriff’s candidates to be registered voters in the county in which they’re seeking office but it does require them to be residents of the county for at least one year prior to the election. The P.O.S.T. Commission said Lay missed that by two days.
At the time that his appeal before the commission was denied, Lay said he would think things over for a few days before announcing his next move. He had indicated previously that he had retained legal counsel, and also hinted that he was exploring a write-in candidacy.
Last week, Lay began placing campaign signs in various locations in Scott County, and on Monday published a new post on his Facebook campaign page.
It was not immediately clear, through an email to the Scott County Election Commission Office on Monday, whether Lay has filed paperwork to qualify as a write-in candidate. However, that paperwork does not have to be filed until 50 days prior to the election. In his Facebook post Monday, Lay urged residents to “write me in” as sheriff.
In light of the P.O.S.T. Commission’s ruling, the only sheriff candidate appearing on the ballot for the Aug. 2 election will be incumbent Ronnie Phillips. Phillips was elected by an overwhelming margin in 2014 after being appointed by Scott County Commission to fill the unexpired term of the late Mike Cross. Prior to joining the Sheriff’s Department as Cross’s chief deputy in 2010, Phillips was a part of the Oneida Police Department law enforcement team under Cross.
While Lay did not qualify to appear on the ballot, he can qualify as a write-in candidate because the one-year residency requirement will have been satisfied.
However, write-in campaigns are notoriously difficult to accomplish. The last attempt at a write-in campaign in a sheriff’s race in Scott County was in 2010, when Lay’s chief deputy, Bobby Ellis, sought office as a write-in candidate against Cross, former sheriff Jim Carson and Brad Lay. Ellis mounted the write-in campaign when Lay — who had already qualified for election — resigned after the qualifying deadline. Cross ultimately won the election.
In the absence of competition on the ballot, the sheriff's race has not generated much attention in the early stages of campaigning. Most of the focus has been on battles to replace two out-going office-holders, Register of Deeds Benjie Rector and County Clerk Pat Phillips. Crowded fields of potential successors are competing for those offices, while Dale Boyatt and Kelvin King are battling to replace Road Superintendent Dick Sexton in another county-wide race featuring a retiring office-holder.
The race for county mayor is also contested, with incumbent Dale Perdue opposed on the ballot by several candidates, including former mayor Jeff Tibbals, retired soldier Michael Lloyd, current County Commissioner Rick Russ and Oneida businessman Harold Brooks.