Joe Carr bill aims to curb crossover voting in primary elections

With a House subcommittee’s concurrence, Rep. Joe Carr on Wednesday transformed a bill to require runoffs in Tennessee primary elections into an effort to reduce crossover voting in primaries.

Carr, who is running against incumbent Lamar Alexander in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, said his current campaign “didn’t enter at all” into a joint decision by himself and Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, the Senate sponsor, to revise the bill (HB1833).

Rather, he said state Election Coordinator Mark Goins had explained to him that a combination of factors involving federal election law mandates and state laws following the state constitution make runoff primaries impractical, at best. Abandoning that notion, Carr said, the sponsors agreed to use the measure as a vehicle toward resolving a pet peeve of some Republicans in recent years – Democrats voting in their party’s primaries.

As amended in the House State Government Subcommittee, the bill will now require each voter in a primary election to check a box agreeing with the following statement printed on a voter sign-in form:

“The primary election that I am voting in most closely represents my values and beliefs.”

Current law says that primary voting is be limited to “bonafide” members of the party, but enforcement requires a specific challenge to be made to a voter participating in a primary before voting and the provision is rarely enforced. Past proposals to require registration as a party member before voting in a primary – mandated in some other states – have failed in the Legislature.

Carr and Campfield said that requiring voters to “attest” to the printed statement before voting should deter crossover voting, though perhaps not eliminate it.
“We’re trying to keep malicious primary voters from crossing over and maligning the primary voting process,” said Carr.

While saying his own race was not a consideration, Carr said that “Lamar does like to appeal to Democrats” and could thus stand to benefit more than he from any crossover voting in the GOP primary. But he said that a contested Democratic primary that has developed – including Knoxville lawyers Terry Adams and Gordon Ball – will likely stir interest of Democrats and make them more likely to vote in their own primary.