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Lynn & Martha Ann say goodbye to public service

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“We’ve been through a lot together; births- deaths, marriages and divorces,” Sutherland said.

And it’s the difficult moments the two remember the fondest. “I remember being here on several late (election) nights waiting for results to come in, together,” Harris said.

They have seen registration procedures change from lining up outside the Wilson County Courthouse to being allowed to mail in registration, then online and at several other locations.

They have implemented the changes from pull-lever voting machines to electronic Microvote machines in 1997 to the iVotetronics they have used since 2006.

They have moved offices three times, twice in the courthouse to allow for more space and then to the current location in the Commission building on the corner of East Main and College Street.

When we first moved in here, we thought we would have more room than we knew what to do with,” Harris laughed. “Now, as you can see, we are having to find places to put stuff.”

And they have seen voting districts re-appropriated at least three times as the county continued to grow. 

They share several fond memories of their time at the Commission, from being cussed out by people on the phone for “not putting any smart people like doctors, lawyers or scientists on the ballot” to being told that they “could shove that form…” in a not so comfortable place by one inebriated candidate who later apologized.

But it’s not the bad they will remember, they both agreed. They will remember most the friends they met who served as poll workers, county officials, elected public servants and even some who were not elected.

They have seen voter turnout dwindle from several decades ago when county and city elections received the highest turnouts until the General Election of 2008, when more than 50 percent of the county cast a ballot. But it couldn’t hold a candle to the 80-plus percent that used to vote for local officials, a statistic that is unheard of today.

They have hosted elections for school classes from kindergarten through college, even Cumberland University’s student body elections. Now that the two are stepping down, they are making plans to switch gears.

“For me, it’s about starting over,” Harris said. “Getting on with the rest of my life,” since her husband Eddie passed away a few years ago.

The two have plans to attend Harris’ daughter’s wedding in California in Yosemite Park in the spring.Sutherland remembers when Harris’ daughter was first born 27 years ago, 3-months old and lying in a box in their office at the Courthouse. She was set between the two’s desks while they worked away as the Commission’s only two full-time employees.

It was a “hit-home” type of moment that brought tears to the eyes of Sutherland again.  The two are both ready to move on, but they know they will miss the job of their lives that became one of their most defining characteristics.

And the rest of the county would never have been the same without their service. A retirement celebration reception will be held Monday on the second floor of the Wilson County Courthouse from 4 to 6 p.m. The Election Board will meet following the reception to decide how best to replace the 63 years of service and experience the women have given.

But there is no way to replace Lynn and Martha Ann.

Staff Writer Zack Owensby may be reached at zowensby@wilsonpost.com.

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