Category Archives: election laws

Only TN Democratic election commission chair ousted

The State Election Commission has voted to remove Democrat Michael Fitzgibbons from the Sevier County Election Commission after he refused to step down as chairman in compliance with a new state law mandating that only Republicans serve as county election commission chairs.

In a letter to Fitzgibbons, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins says the commission decided “in a bipartisan 5-2 vote” to remove him from office “as a result of your violation of Tenn. Code Ann. 2-1-111 and 2016 Public Chapter 1069.”

The cited law, enacted earlier this year by the Legislature to take effect on July 1, declares that all county election commission chairmen must be members of the political party representing a majority of the commission. Under separate state law, Republicans have a majority on all county election commissions and on the State Election Commission as well.

Fitzgibbons was elected chairman of the Sevier County panel in April of 2015, becoming the only Democratic chair in the state on a 3-2 vote when a Republican member voted for him by mistake, Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, told the News Sentinel earlier. The change of law to require Republicans only be chairs came in the form of an amendment to a bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon. (Note: Previous post HERE.)

According to State Election Commission correspondence on the issue, provided on request by a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, the Sevier County Election Commission voted to reorganize Aug. 12 and chose Jack Ogle as the new chairman, but Fitzgibbons the vote out of order and continued to describe himself as chairman.

The Tennessee Democratic Party issued a press release on the matter Monday. It’s below. Continue reading

New law ends Democrat’s term as election commission chair

The only Democrat holding the chairmanship of a county election commission is about to lose his role in accordance with a new state law, reports Georgiana Vines. quoting state Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, who was a co-sponsor of the new law when it was approved earlier this year by the Legislature.

All county election commissions have a 3-2 Republican majority membership. And everywhere but Sevier County, that has meant election of a Republican chairman. The new law took effect July 1 and Carr says the commission will meet soon to elect a new chairman.

There was nothing on the books that the chairman also be in the majority party until the legislation passed this year. (Note: It’s HB726, approved 65-8 in the House and 27-2 in the Senate.)

Carr said when the election commission reorganized in April 2015, Democrat Michael Fitzgibbons was elected in a 3-2 vote with one Republican inadvertently supporting him, Carr said.

“Someone asked graciously if he (Fitzgibbons) would reconsider the vote. He wouldn’t do it,” he said.

Carr said he “did not open that chapter up,” speaking of introducing legislation just to make sure the election commission chairman was of the majority party. But when Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon sponsored legislation affecting elections, “I put an amendment on to do that.”

Libertarian drive seeks party label on TN November ballot

The Libertarian Party of Tennessee has launched a drive to collect enough signatures to have the party’s candidates listed on the November ballot by party label rather than as “independent.”

Excerpt from a Columbia Daily Herald column on the effort:

Under state law, Democrats and Republicans only need 25 signatures. But alternative parties need 34,000 valid signatures, almost double the votes Johnson received here in 2012. (Note: Gary Johnson was the Libertarian presidential nominee then and has been nominated again. A Politico report on the party convention and November prospects is HERE.)

Republicans, who control the state legislature, have stacked the deck against third parties. Lawsuits and proposed legislation have done little to change the atmosphere. Both Republicans and Democrats think Libertarians hurt their chances in tight races.

“The current political climate has many people looking for alternatives to the two major parties,” (Tennessee Libertarian Chairman Jim) Tomasik said. “In Tennessee, we in essence only have one major party due to the fact that the Democratic Party is dominated overwhelmingly by the Republican super majority.

“Tennesseans looking for more choices are invited to join our petition drive.”

Note: The Tennessee Libertarian Party’s website has a news release on the “ballot access drive” HERE, including a link to the petition form. An excerpt is below: Continue reading

Sen. Sara Kyle’s husband bows out of hearing election lawsuit

Shelby County Chancellor Jim Kyle has recused himself from hearing a lawsuit filed by former Memphis City Court Clerk candidate Wanda Halbert related to the accuracy of last year’s election results, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The Shelby County Election Commission filed a motion Wednesday for Kyle to remove himself from the case because his wife, Democratic Sen. Sara Kyle of Memphis, is in a contested election, Jim Kyle said.

The SCEC motion came after Kyle, himself a former senator, had a run-in with SCEC staff as he tried to get a map of his wife’s district.

“I’m sure I was a bit frustrated,” he said of his repeated attempts to pick up an accurate map.

Kyle said his recusal was “inevitable” once his wife was challenged for her seat, but he stressed that he had abided by the law through the process and hadn’t helped his wife’s campaign in any way.

As a side note, he added: “Today, I got my map.”

The other two chancellors have already recused themselves, so the case could go to a Circuit Court judge, Kyle said. If no circuit judges agree to hear the case, an outside judge would be brought in to hear it.

Halbert filed the lawsuit in October after losing the City Court clerk race to Kay Robilio because voting machine reports didn’t match final tallies.

Cost of abortion vote recount put at $1M

Election officials estimate the total cost to taxpayers of a court-ordered recount of Amendment 1, the 2014 abortion ballot measure, could be $1 million, according to The Tennessean.

But lawyers for the state are asking U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp to allow election officials to postpone any recount while they appeal his ruling.

Requiring county election officials to go through a recount process while preparing for upcoming state, local and federal elections in August and November would be “disruptive” and “interfere with the integrity of those elections,” election officials argued in declarations submitted to the court earlier this month.

In April, Sharp ordered a recount of the state’s controversial ballot measure, calling the method used to count votes “fundamentally unfair” to voters opposed to the measure.

Amendment 1 passed with 53 percent of the vote. The measure specifically removed the right to an abortion from the Tennessee Constitution. Its passage has led to new regulations of abortion clinics and a 48-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.

Within days of the election, however, eight voters opposed to the measure, including the board chairman of Planned Parenthood of Middle & Eastern Tennessee, filed suit, claiming the vote tabulation methods used by election officials violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution — and was contrary to language in the Tennessee Constitution that explains how votes for ballot measures should be counted.

Sharp’s order required election officials to count only those votes for or against the amendment that were cast by voters who also voted in the governor’s race.

Unlike a simple majority required for a candidate to succeed, the Tennessee Constitution requires amendments to pass by a majority of the votes cast in the governor’s race.

Sharp concluded that the language in the Tennessee Constitution require voters to vote in both races in order to have their votes counted for or against an amendment.

TBA asks judge candidates to sign Judicial Campaign Code of Conduct

News release from Tennessee Bar Association
NASHVILLE, May 5, 2016 – With three Tennessee Supreme Court Justices and seven intermediate appellate judges facing retention elections, along with 15 trial judges and a number of local judges on the ballot in August, the Tennessee Bar Association is renewing its effort to assure fair and impartial judicial elections by asking judges to subscribe to the Tennessee Fair Judicial Campaign Code of Conduct.

“Judicial elections are different,” said TBA President Bill Harbison. “Judges are not permitted to make promises or pledges about how they will rule because we expect them to proceed case by case to apply the law to the facts and come to fair and impartial decisions. The code helps to ensure this impartiality by committing the judges not to make pledges, promises or commitments on how they will rule in cases.”

In the 2014 election cycle, where all judges and judicial officers were on the ballot, more than 116 judges subscribed to the code. Letters to all known judges and judicial candidates on the ballot are being issued this week. For more information and to view the code of conduct, visit

Note: The link includes listings of judicial candidates, including three Supreme Court justices — Jeffrey S. Bivins, Holly Kirby and Roger Page — and seven other appeals court judges who will be on the August ballot. The Supreme Court members are all Republican appointees of Gov. Bill Haslam and no opposition to their retention has surface, a contrast to the 2014 election when three justices appointed by former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen were on the ballot (and won despite heavy opposition, led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey).

Senators reject candidate credit score disclosure

An effort to require Tennessee candidates for public office to release their credit scores wound up with a zero rating in the Senate State and Local Government Committee, reports the Times-Free Press.

The committee voted 9-0 against the bill (SB1452), sponsored by Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta.

Bailey argued voters should know something about a candidate’s financial stability, but fellow senators raised a number of objections including someone whose credit ratings may be adversely impacted due to identity theft.

“You’ve been most gracious in the defeat of this important legislation,” Bailey told colleagues following the vote.

Note: In contrast, the bill has made its way successfully through House committees and subcommittees and is scheduled for a floor vote on March 24 under sponsorship of Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. Previous post HERE.

Bill ends early voting in uncontested special elections

Freshman Rep. Jason Zachary says the first bill he brought before the House Local Government Subcommittee would have saved Knox County $30,000 if it had been in effect when he won a special election last year.

The Knoxville Republican’s bill — HB1475 — would eliminate early voting in special elections when there is only one candidate on the ballot – the situation that occurred in 2015 when Zachary was the only candidate on the special general election to replace former Rep. Ryan Haynes, who vacated the 14th House District seat to become state Republican Party chairman.

Zachary defeated fellow Republican Karen Carson in the August 2014 special primary election. No Democrat sought nomination to the seat and no one filed the paperwork necessary under state law to qualify as a write-in candidate. The Knox County Commission proceeded to appoint Zachary to take the seat early, but — as required under existing state law — the county election commission proceeded with holding early voting prior to the special general election in September.

Zachary told the subcommittee last week that the early voting cost taxpayers about $30,000 and “this is a bill to protect the taxpayers” in the future based on his personal past experience. He said about 5,000 people voted in the contested primary while only about 200 in the uncontested general election.

The panel approved the bill on voice vote and with no discussion on its merits, but not without a bit of the banter that freshman legislators typically endure on their initial appearance as sponsor of a bill.

Local Government Committee Chairman Tim Wirgau, R-Buchannan, told Zachary it was traditional for a freshman appearing before the panel to sing “the Tennessee General Assembly fight song” prior to a vote.

“If you will teach it to me, I will sing it,” Zachary replied.

Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis, asked Zachary if he voted for himself in the special general election. Zachary acknowledged doing so and Miller then declared support of the bill, noting that without it the possibility would exist for a candidate being elected based only on his own vote — as would have been the case if “those 199 other people didn’t vote.”

The General Assembly, while it does have its own official flag, does not have an official fight song — at least not yet — though it has enacted multiple official state songs.

TN Secretary of State’s early voting press release

News release from Secretary of State’s office
Nashville, Tennessee – (February 10, 2016) – Early voting for the March 1 presidential preference primary, or “SEC Primary,” begins today.

This election cycle voting early may be an important option because of unpredictable winter weather. The number of presidential candidates as well as the number of delegates could also create incredibly long ballots for some voters.

Six Southern states will join Tennessee to help decide who could be the next president of the United States. The Volunteer State’s clout could mean more primary interest than in years past.

“I’m trying to remember the last time we were seeing this much attention in a Republican primary, this many people paying attention to Tennessee and Southern states,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett told Politico late last year. “I can’t think of a time.”

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays and ends Tuesday, February 23. Some counties will be closed on Monday, February 15 for Presidents Day.
Continue reading

Federal judge upholds TN voter photo ID law

A federal judge in Nashville has upheld Tennessee’s voter ID law prohibiting the use of student identification cards at the polls, reports The Tennessean.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger on Monday granted the state’s request to dismiss the case and upheld the law as constitutional. The students who brought the case in March wanted to use their school identification cards to vote and said the state denying them the ability to do that was age discrimination.

Her ruling comes after four years of debate over Tennessee’s law but does not necessarily end discussion because the ruling could be appealed.

…Trauger’s ruling is largely based on a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case called Crawford vs. Marion County Election Board. That case upheld Indiana’s law requiring voters to show photo identification as a constitutional way to prevent voter fraud. It also said that requiring people to get state identification cards did not create enough burden for the court to overturn the law.

“Under the Tennessee Voter ID Law, everyone is required to obtain some form of acceptable photo identification in order to vote,” Trauger wrote in the memo. “Students, like everyone else, can select among a state-issued driver license, a United States passport, or the free, state-issued non-driver identification card.

“Admittedly, allowing students to use these cards (student IDs) would make it easier for them to vote, but it does not automatically follow that not allowing them to use their student identification cards imposes a severe burden or otherwise abridges their right to vote.”

The case was filed by the Fair Elections Legal Network and the Nashville firm of Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison on behalf of a group of students from the Nashville Student Organizing Committee and seven students from Tennessee State University, Belmont University and Fisk University. Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins were named as defendants.