Because of the odd timing of Tennessee judicial elections, which coincide with legislative primaries, a wrinkle in state law will come into play this general-election season enabling voters in Shelby County to fill a soon-to-be vacant Senate seat on Nov. 4, rather than having to wait for a special election.
Senate District 30, held by Minority Leader Jim Kyle, wasn’t scheduled for an election this year. But the Memphis Democrat, who won the seat in 2012, successfully won a judgeship in Shelby County on Aug. 7.
Kyle’s first day presiding over cases in Tennessee’s largest and most populous county will be Sept. 2, according to the chancery court clerk’s office.
That means Kyle’s legislative seat will be officially opening up soon — assuming he vacates it in keeping with the Tennessee Constitution’s prohibition against anyone holding “more than one lucrative office at the same time.” Judges are expressly barred from holding seats simultaneously in the General Assembly.
If Kyle, who didn’t immediately return a voice-message request for comment, resigns his Senate seat in a timely fashion, the November election ballot will include candidates running for the Senate District 30 seat.
However, there will be no primary to select the candidates. Instead, county party officials will choose the nominees and send them directly to the general election ballot.
Mark Goins, the state’s elections coordinator, told TNReport Tuesday that because the Senate seat vacancy is occurring so close to a general election, special rules apply in the Tennessee code.
“If the vacancy begins before Sept. 20, then the executive committees (for the county parties) come together to submit nominees,” Goins said. “If someone wants to run as an independent, they also have to file their petition 45 days before the November election, which would also be Sept. 20 at noon.”
In the event that Kyle doesn’t give a formal declaration that he’s leaving the Senate by Sept. 20, then the Nov. 4 election to fill his seat will be determined by a write-in election — that is to say, nobody’s name will actually appear on the ballot.
Goins said he was unaware of a situation like this occurring before, and certainly not while he’s been the state’s chief elections official.
“I guess the Legislature did it to save money,” he said of the law’s provision that essentially skips a primary.