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Early Voting Encouraged By State Election Officials

As the state enters the final days of the primary-election early-voting period, state election officials are urging Tennessee voters to get down to the polls early to avoid long wait times on Aug. 7.

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins spoke on a conference call Wednesday to reporters from around the state about the extra long ballots for this election period.

“As we’ve emphasized before, this is the longest, or at least one of the longest ballots in Tennessee history,” Hargett told reporters, and added that the estimated time to complete a full ballot is about five to eight minutes.

The “added dynamic” contributing to the exceptional length of this year’s ballots are the inclusion of the retention questions for the 23 state appellate and Supreme Court judges, Hargett said.

According to Hargett, 368,111 people have so far participated in early voting, which is a 10 percent increase over the turnout for the August 2010 election.

Hargett is urging people to vote early to limit the lines on election day to make the day go smoother for state and local elections officials. Shorter lines of voters on election day means the polls close earlier, which means election commissions will be able to get the results out quicker, he said.

“We just want to encourage if people know how they’re going to vote, we want them to go ahead and take advantage of early voting,” Hargett said. “Certainly if they’re not ready to cast their vote, they’re certainly entitled to do it on election day, and we encourage them to do so.”

However, despite the longer ballots, Goins said that he had not heard of any problems with lengthy early voting times around the state so far, and that things appear “to be moving pretty smoothly.”

“People are not experiencing long lines during early voting. And obviously the numbers bear out that more people are taking advantage of it four years ago,” Goins said.

In the August elections of 2010, voter turnout was at 29 percent, Hargett said, and added that voter turnout in August of 2012 was “slightly under 20 percent.” In the November 2012 general election turnout  was “just under 62 percent,” the secretary of state said.


Liberty and Justice News

Courts Could Decide Disputed Primary Election Results

Lawmakers are working toward an agreement on legislation that would change the way contested primary elections are handled in the state.

Currently, the political party’s state executive committee decides disputed elections, although their decision can be appealed to the court system.

Under HB3019, sponsored by Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, a candidate who wants to challenge a primary election result would file an appeal with the Tennessee Secretary of State, who’d then appoint an administrative law judge to hear the grievance.

The bill was scheduled for a vote before the House Elections Subcommittee this week, but was delayed after two representatives raised objections about the current draft.

Rep. Gary Moore, D-Joelton, wants language inserted that requires the secretary of state to act in a timely manner when a challenge is filed. “What I can see potentially happening here is (after someone files an appeal)…the secretary of state not doing anything with it until six months later,” said Moore.

Another subcommittee member said the bill should also outline a balanced and consistent decision-making framework to aid judges hearing contested primaries. “The judge is going to need some standards with which to measure the challenge,” said Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville. “Do we want it to be the party’s bylaws, or do we want some other objective standards to be in there?”

DeBerry’s bill is an attempt to address concerns raised after the 2008 Democratic primary for the District 22 state Senate seat, which represents Cheatham, Houston, and Montgomery counties.

Then-Sen. Rosalind Kurita, of Clarksville, faced a primary challenge from Tim Barnes after Kurita, a Democrat, cast the deciding vote to make a Republican, Ron Ramsey, speaker of the Senate.

Just shy of 10,000 votes were cast in the primary; Kurita won by just 19.

Barnes contested the election, and the state Democratic Executive Committee declared Barnes the winner of the election.

Some Democrats said they had evidence a significant number of Republicans voted in their primary to sway the election for Kurita as payoff for supporting Ramsey. Others said angry partisans on the party executive committee were the ones engaging in political payback — that their decision was comeuppance for Kurita straying from the party line.

Kurita appealed to the courts, but she found no relief there.

“I didn’t really agree with that (executive committee) decision,” Tindall said at the subcommittee meeting Tuesday. “I was a little skeptical of the idea that the party could overturn the decision of the voters of that district.”

DeBerry said his bill is aimed at preventing a similar situation from happening in the future.

The bill, DeBerry said, would not go so far as to ask a judge to determine the true party affiliation of voters in a primary, but it would attempt to remove extreme partisanship from determining contested primary elections.

The bill doesn’t differentiate between “who is, and who is not, a Democrat, who is a Republican, an Independent, Green Party, or whatever.” Rather, it seeks to prevent the will of the public from being overturned unless a judge finds a legal reason for the candidate to be disqualified, DeBerry said.

“We can’t just say, ‘We don’t like you, we think you’re not a good enough Democrat or a good enough Republican, therefore we’re going to declare the loser the winner,” he continued. “That’s what we need to get at.”