Could an unknown candidate for governor play a decisive role in whether constitutional amendments pass or fail in Tennessee this year?
The Democratic Party of Tennessee has lately been getting unwanted national media attention and mounting ridicule related to their Aug. 7 gubernatorial primary winner, a man named Charles V. “Charlie” Brown. The 72-year-old Morgan County retiree is a political unknown who espouses some rather unorthodox political views and priorities, at least for a modern Democrat.
Brown’s biggest political attribute appears to have something to do with his name. He may have won because his was the only name most Democratic primary voters in any way recognized on their gubernatorial ballot last Thursday. Or, it could have been because it was at the top of the ballot, due to where ‘B’ finds itself in the alphabet, and a majority of the party’s voting base quickly check-marked his box and then moved on to more pressing election questions.
At any rate, unless party officials try to remove Brown’s name from the ballot, he’ll officially be the Democrats’ guy in the gubernatorial race against incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
And that’s got Davidson County Democratic officials reportedly concerned that exasperated progressives may choose to skip the gubernatorial election on the ballot — which, in turn, could hurt the party’s chances of defeating a proposed amendment to the state’s Constitution that many active Democrats fear and loathe.
Early polling suggests a majority of Tennessee voters are skeptical of the Amendment 1 abortion-rights question. If passed by voters, the Tennessee Constitution will be amended to declare, “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.” The state’s General Assembly, currently dominated by Republicans, would be granted sweeping powers to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
But there are variables that may come into play that have more to do with turnout than just tallying up the “yes” and “no” votes.
A change-in-wording to the document must win a majority of the votes not on the ballot question itself, but of the total number of people who cast votes in the gubernatorial election. The Tennessean offers this explanation:
If 1.4 million people vote in the governor’s race, for example, the proposal to remove abortion protections from the constitution will need 700,001 votes to become law. But if 1.5 million people vote in the abortion referendum and 1.4 million vote for governor, the same 700,001 votes will get the job done for the amendment, despite being in the minority on that issue. On the other hand, if those 1.4 million vote for governor and just 1.3 million people vote in the abortion referendum, anti-abortion forces will need more than a simple majority to win.
Multiple attempts to reach Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron for comment on Brown’s candidacy have gone unanswered.