The Tennessee Democratic Party has yet to decide whether it will allow a recount in a state Senate race that could possibly dethrone a long-time legislative veteran.
The unofficial vote totals in the race between Sen. Douglas Henry and Jeff Yarbro have changed four times since the Aug. 5 primary election. The results always leave a slim margin between the two Nashville Democrats, generally indicating Henry is the winner.
But ultimately in Tennessee, the political parties have the final say on who continues on to the general election in November — despite the vote totals.
State law gives political parties the authority to change the primary election winner if one of the candidates contests the results.
“The state primary board shall hear and determine the contest and make the disposition of the contest which justice and fairness require, including setting aside the election if necessary,” according to state code.
Changing the primary election winner is rare, according to Keith Talley, spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party. But it happened two years ago when the party’s executive committee stripped away Clarksville state Sen. Rosalind Kurita’s 19-vote lead and gave the win to her challenger, Tim Barnes.
The Adams Democrat, who currently sits in the Senate, contested the election by alleging Republicans were encouraged to vote for Kurita in the race.
Holding a primary election that year cost $4.5 million — but the state picked up the tab because it was a presidential election year.
The Secretary of State’s office predicts the cost will be the same this year — although it is paid by local municipalities during gubernatorial election cycles. Conducting a primary, where voters choose who they want to run in the general election, could cost about $200,000 in taxpayer dollars in Davidson County alone.
Whether all the votes are recounted or kept intact in the 21st state Senate district — covering Nashville’s west and south sides — is yet to be determined.
The race between Henry and Yarbro narrowed to 11 from 13 votes Monday after Davidson County election officials discovered a voting machine that had never been counted.
Yarbro, a 33-year-old lawyer, has asked for a speedy recount from Davidson County. Local election commission chairman Lynn Greer said no, he told TNReport, saying it sets a bad precedent.
Yarbro’s attorney said in a statement shortly after the election that he believes some absentee votes were miscounted.
“At this point, we have a question of math, not politics,” read the message from attorney Wally Dietz.
As of Monday, 5,731 ballots were cast for Henry and 5,720 were recorded for Yarbro — leaving an unofficial 11-vote difference, according to Ray Barrett, Davidson County election administrator.
Yarbro officially asked the Democratic Party’s Executive Committee for a recount Tuesday.
“Obviously, we’re troubled by the changing tallies and the resulting uncertainty. The need for a recount could not be clearer,” he said in a press release.
Before Democrats can act, the Davidson County Election Commission must first certify the election results, which is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 23.
Once the votes are certified by the county, the state Democratic Party can ratify the results, authorize a recount or hear arguments contesting the race.
Yarbro has indicated he’s interested in a recount, but has not tipped his hand as to whether he’ll contest the race itself. Repeated calls to his campaign headquarters and his lawyer were not returned Monday.
Democratic Party officials say they can’t remember the last time they OK’d a recount.
If the Democratic Executive Committee’s 65 members allow Yarbro a recount, Davidson County election officials will have to check roughly 200 absentee ballots by hand and re-tally the vote totals from election day, according to Barrett.