The county’s lead election official retired from his post at the commission after more than 11 years at the helm, and his main assistant is taking over.

Phillip Warren’s tenure as the Wilson County Administrator of Elections saw several transformative developments in the election process and in the county as a whole. When he started, everything was still done on paper. Now, things are electric.

There’s also more than 30,000 new voters on the books. The election commission even had to move to a new office location because the building on Main Street was becoming too cramped for all the resources.

He called former assistant and now lead administrator Tammy Smith’s impact instrumental in the commission’s successes.

“Tammy and I put this together as a team, and we made it a premier operation,” Warren said.

Until now, Wilson County was the only county in Tennessee with two certified election administrators running its department. Following Warren’s departure, it is back to one.

Smith had previously served in a similar role for Macon County, where she was certified, before moving to Wilson County 10 years ago.

“We have come a long way (since then),” said Smith. “When we started, they were still using typewriters.”

The new administrator said that she wants to really ramp up the election institute that her commission offers. It spotlights what goes on behind the scenes in the year leading up to an election.

“It allows individuals to come in and see exactly what we do,” Smith said. “We only have one opportunity to get things right, so educating voters about how it works is important.”

Grand send-off

To commemorate the outgoing administrator’s tenure, several of the people who have been elected under his watch gathered to say goodbye.

Rep. Susan Lynn, of Mt. Juliet, said, “We are so thankful you have been taking care of our elections … and for so long.”

Lynn joined her General Assembly colleague, Rep. Clark Boyd, who described the Wilson County Election Commission’s reputation for professionalism as being statewide.

“Among election administrators, (Warren is) a leader,” said Boyd. “I know other administrators who come up to the Capitol, and the Speaker of the House (Rep. Cameron Sexton) tells them to go talk to Phillip or Tammy.”

In Warren’s 11 years at the election commission, he said no day could compare with the primary election day on March 3, 2020, when Wilson County was struck by a tornado.

“We lost two of 18 locations,” Warren said. “Of the 16 remaining, 10 had no power. By the end of the day, four still had no power.

“Every disaster scenario that we came up with, we got to try them all in one day.”

The response from the commission’s workforce that day still fills Warren with pride.

“It goes to show with the preparation that had been put into place, and with the training of our poll workers, when you do have a catastrophe like that, you have the people who can handle it,” Warren said. “We had as many voters that day as we did (during the) early election period.”

During the reception, Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, called those poll workers, the “hands and feet” that make sure the election is done the right way. One of those poll workers, shared a little bit about what it was like working under Warren.

Ronald Young has volunteered at the polls in District 18 for 25 years, and he has seen his fair share of changes.

“Back then, the real requirement was, ‘Did you own a pick-up truck,’ ” Young said.

The machines weighed approximately 70 pounds and had to be transported across the county on Election Day and brought back to Lebanon after the polls closed.

That’s not the only difference that Young pointed out.

“In older days, the training was once or twice (a year),” Young said. “Whereas, with Phillip, the training is more elaborate. It’s hands on with a new machine, and it meets four times a year.”

However, that training has come in handy for Young, who said he’s qualified for any job needed at the polls.

“Phillip and Tammy have organized this in such a way that not only am I a machine operator primarily, but I can do any job,” Young said. “Registrar, special elections ... they’ve trained me on any job we have to do, so if we’re short on any position at the poll, I can step into that role with ease.”

Young also mentioned that he’s looking forward to Smith’s administration.

“Tammy is so well qualified,” Young said. “I have a lot of respect for her. I can email her, even in the middle of the night, and she always answers. She works harder than any of us.”

Warren is also confident in Smith’s future at the helm.

“The procedures, the planning, the anticipation of the event, the training of poll workers are what I consider our greatest achievements,” Warren said. “And Tammy will be able to take it to even greater heights.”

As for Warren, he wasn’t specific about what the next chapter holds for him, but he plans to be busy.

“I have many many projects, and lots of plans,” Warren said.

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