Category Archives: election laws

TN presidential primary candidate list finalized

News release from Secretary of State’s office
Nashville, Tennessee – (December 17, 2015) – Today marks an important milestone on the road to the White House, which will cross Tennessee during the 2016 election cycle. Secretary of State Tre Hargett has now certified the names of presidential candidates for the March 1 presidential preference primary, or “SEC Primary,” when Tennessee will join six other southern states to help decide who will be the next president of the United States.

“It is likely one of these men or women will hold our country’s highest elected office. Hopefully Tennesseans understand how much of an impact their votes will make,” Secretary Hargett said.

It’s important to note that once a candidate is certified for a party primary they are unable to appear on the November 8 general election ballot as the nominee of a different political party. Hargett presented the list of 14 Republicans and three Democrats to the State Election Commission December 1.
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On the Supreme TN political rule changes

In the aftermath of record spending by three justices in last year’s campaigns, the Tennessee Supreme Court last week revised the rules for judicial politicking, allowing judges to start campaigning earlier and easing restrictions on campaign trail conduct.

Three justices will also be up for a yes-no retention election in August 2016, state election officials have decided, although there has been some uncertainty over the timing.

The 2016 campaigns might not be as combative as the 2014 contests, which saw three justices appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen facing charges they were “liberal Democrats.” In 2016, the three justices will all be appointees of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam — Jeff Bivens of Franklin, Holly Kirby of Memphis and a justice who will be appointed soon by the governor.

Chief Justice Sharon Lee would not agree to be interviewed on the rule changes, which were announced Wednesday via a news release that stressed judges will still face far more restrictions on politicking than other public officials.

But others uniformly agreed the rule revisions amount to a court response to the successful but troubled campaigns of Lee, Justice Cornelia Clark and former Justice Gary Wade last year.

“It was an awkward situation last year,” said Wade, who had ethics complaints filed against him for allegedly violating a now-abolished rule forbidding judges from endorsing any other candidate for public office.

The new rule lets judges endorse — or oppose — candidates running for judicial positions, but not in other races for other political offices.

“They ran for re-election on keeping politics out of the court system, and now they’ve just injected politics into the court system,” said George Scoville, a Nashville-based blogger who filed complaints against Wade and other judges last year.
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Startup nonprofit’s politicking scrutinized

As Nashville voters decide a runoff mayor’s election today, the faith-based group Nashville Organized for Action and Hope says it is weighing legal action over use of campaign materials appearing under the name of a predecessor organization.

Further from The Tennessean:

The name at issue is Tying Nashville Together, a defunct social justice-driven nonprofit in Nashville that consisted of churches, synagogues and neighborhood associations and was active for nearly two decades, particularly in North Nashville.

Tying Nashville Together, founded in 1991, recently dissolved, but core members in 2013 organized under the nonprofit NOAH, which has built a campaign platform that it has presented to Nashville’s mayoral and council candidates.

Two pieces of campaign material have surfaced ahead of Thursday’s Metro’s runoff election that say they are paid for by a new nonprofit corporation with the same name, Tying Nashville Together, which records show filed for organization with the Tennessee Secretary of State on Aug. 20.

One piece of campaign literature — one that appears to be circulating in North Nashville — is a voting card that says “Vote for these candidates.” Candidates listed are mayoral candidate David Fox and at-large Metro Council candidates Erica Gilmore, Jim Shulman, Sharon Hurt, Lonnell Matthews Jr. and John Cooper.

The Aug. 20 nonprofit filing of Tying Nashville Together with the state lists Donald Richardson at 1028 Charlotte Ave. as the registered agent of the group. That address is also the address of Nashville Limousine Service, an Internet search shows.

A phone number listed on the Yelp page for Nashville Limousine Service is the phone number of Rick Williams, chairman of Save Our Fairgrounds and Stop Amp who is historically active in Metro races. In addition the incorporating address of Nashville Limousine Service appears to be the Madison home address of Williams.

Williams did not return numerous calls from The Tennessean or respond to multiple text messages.

Fox campaign spokesman Israel Ortega said the Fox campaign gave a $1,500 contribution to the Williams-led entity to cover printing costs of the voting card.

State Rep. Bo Mitchell accused of involvement in mystery Nashville campaign robocalls

Nashville mayoral candidate David Fox’s campaign is pointing to state Rep. Bo Mitchell, who supports another candidate, as the person behind anonymously-sponsored robocalls tying Fox to “extremist” Republicans. Both Mitchell and the campaign he supports – that of Bill Freeman – denied the allegations.

From The Tennessean’s report:

The robocall, which went out to phones on July 31, did not disclose who paid for the message, which would violate federal telephone consumer regulations.

According to the Fox campaign, the call used the caller ID number 615-852-7237, which is linked to a Google Voice account with a voicemail set up.

The Barry and Bone campaigns both denied any role in the robocall last week. In now pointing to Mitchell and Freeman, the Fox campaign claimed they have the following evidence:

Fox’s campaign claims Mitchell “possesses the technology” and has a history of using an auto-dial machine in his own political races.

Fox’s campaign alleges that “eyewitnesses” place Mitchell, Freeman and former state Rep. Mike Turner, another Freeman supporter, at the Noshville restaurant on Broadway on the morning of July 30, one day before the robocall went out.

Fox’s campaign also points to a Facebook post that Democratic state Rep. Sherry Jones, also a Freeman adviser, made on July 30. Jones wrote the following: “For those of you who may not know, mayoral candidate David Fox is a tea party Republican.”

Mitchell responded to questions from The Tennessean via text message on Monday:

“I didn’t create anything that targeted any candidate,” Mitchell texted, adding that he’s been encouraging folks to early vote.

Asked whether he had any involvement at all with the robocalls, Mitchell texted: “None.”

Jones, a South Nashville Democrat, also denied any involvement in the robocall.

Nashville’s mayoral election is Thursday. Early voting ended Saturday.

Fox campaign officials say they plan to turn over their findings to the district attorney’s office as well as relevant state legislative committees.

Hargett spokesman: ‘There will be a retention election in 2016 for Justice Wade’s vacancy’

Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office, which oversees the state division of elections, appears now to have concluded that the successor to retiring Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade should first face a retention election next August, and not in 2022, as some have speculated, according to TNReport.

“Per Tenn. Const. Article VII Section 5 there will be a retention election in 2016 for Justice Wade’s vacancy,” Adam Ghassemi, director of communications for Secretary of State Tre Hargett, wrote in an email to TNReport Friday evening.

The provision of the state Constitution cited in Ghassemi’s statement declares in part that should an unscheduled judicial opening arise, “such vacancy shall be filled at the next biennial election recurring more than thirty days after the vacancy occurs.”

The “next biennial election” for Tennessee judges is next August.

Justice Wade, who won a new eight-year term to the Supreme Court last August, unexpectedly announced his retirement from the bench on July 24.

Wade’s departure, effective Sept. 8, will take effect approximately seven years ahead of schedule, and it will create the first vacancy on the five-member Supreme Court since voters endorsed new judicial-selection procedures in November.

…(T)he portion of the Tennessee Constitution cited by the secretary of state’s office on Friday, Article VII, was in fact not altered by Amendment 2.

Article VII addresses “State and County Officers.” Amendment 2 rewrote only Section 3 of Article VI, which is titled, “Judicial Department.”

Amendment 2 modified the Tennessee Constitution so that it now declares that the state’s most powerful judges “shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by and at the discretion of the governor.”

In wake of Wade’s retirement announcement, Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration indicated confusion over whether their new Supreme Court appointee will stand for a retention vote in August 2016 — the next regularly scheduled judicial election — or in 2022, when Wade’s full term was scheduled to expire.

When will you vote on next TN Supreme Court justice? ‘Unclear at this time’

There seems to be confusion over when the successor to state Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade will face a retention vote in a statewide election after he or she is appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam, reports Richard Locker. (Note: It might be 2016; it might be never.)

Prior to last November’s ratification of a new judicial amendment to the state constitution, the answer was clear: The governor’s appointee to a vacancy on the state Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals or the Court of Criminal Appeals would appear on the ballot at the next statewide August election for a “retain” or “replace” vote by the public. The appointee could serve no more than two years without a direct public vote.

But the new amendment altered the judicial selection process, and opponents of the amendment criticized the new wording as vague and confusing regarding the timing of retention elections for appointees filling vacancies on the court.

…The governor’s office said Monday that “it’s unclear at this time” when a retention election will occur. “We anticipate the General Assembly will address the question when they reconvene early next year,” said Laura Herzog, the governor’s deputy director of communications.

The chief legislative drafter of last year’s Amendment 2, state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said Monday, in an email response to questions regarding the upcoming appointment, that Wade’s successor will not be subject to a retention election until 2022, the end of the current eight-year judicial term. That would give the successor nearly seven years on the state’s high court bench without a direct vote by Tennesseans. (Note: And, of course, under that scenario, if the judge decides not to seek another term, he or she would thus never face a vote.)

But at least twice before last November’s constitutional referendum, Kelsey publicly said that an appointee filling a vacancy on the court would be subject to a retention election at the next August statewide election.

During the campaign for the constitutional amendment last fall, Kelsey appeared at a Sept. 20 forum in Nashville and said, in response to a question from Amendment 2 critic John Jay Hooker: “As Mr. Hooker knows full well, there are two other sections of our state constitution that talk about the election of judges … so if it’s a vacancy, the retention election would occur at the following, at the next even-year August election. If it’s a full term, the retention election would occur at the end of the eight-year term.”

And in a Senate floor debate on Feb. 21, 2013, on the resolution that put Amendment 2 on the ballot, Kelsey said in response to a question about the timing of retention elections asked by then-Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville:

“At the end of the eight-year term for a full term or at the next August election for a vacancy, there would be a retention election under the language of this constitutional amendment.”

…John Avery Emison, who helped run last year’s Vote No on 2 campaign against the judicial amendment, said Monday he hopes the “governor will make the right decision” and declare that his appointee is subject to a retention election in August 2016.

Emison, who lives in Crockett County, cited an email he received last Oct. 11, just before the referendum, from prominent Nashville lawyer Lee Barfield, in response to Emison’s questions to Haslam about retention elections for appointees filling judicial vacancies if Amendment 2 passed.

Barfield, who played a lead role in the Yes on 2 campaign in support of the judicial amendment, said in that email: “ If Amendment 2 is adopted by the voters, a person appointed by the governor to fill a vacancy must stand for retention election by the voters at the next biennial election unless the vacancy occurred less than 30 days prior to the biennial election, in which case the judge will face a retention election in the second biennial election after the vacancy occurred.”

TN flunks ballot ‘accessibility,’ rates 49th overall in voter rights review

News release from Center for American Progress Action Fund (a national “progressive” advocacy organization)
Washington, D.C. — Tennessee ranks 49th in a new report released today by the Center for American Progress Action Fund that gives each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia an overall rank and examines and assigns grades for the categories of accessibility of the ballot, representation in state government, and influence in the political system.

The authors’ analysis reveals that these issues must be addressed in sum, not in silos. The “Health of State Democracies” report gives Tennessee an F in accessibility, a D- in representation, and a D in influence.

Each state, including Tennessee, has areas for significant improvement, with all states specifically needing to address disproportionate representation—no matter where they finish in the rankings. The report also provides recommendations for improvement for Tennessee, including modernizing voter registration, removing structural barriers to full participation, and mitigating the influence of money in the political system.
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Appeals court : TN ballot access law violates minor party constitutional rights

The federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Tennessee’s requirements for “minor” parties getting their names on the ballot violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, reports the Tennessean. The decision upholds a lower court ruling.

“Tennessee’s ballot-retention statute clearly imposes a heavier burden on minor parties than major parties by giving minor parties less time to obtain the same level of electoral success as established parties,” wrote Chief Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. in the court’s decision.

The decision means Tennessee’s requirements for minor parties to get their candidates on a ballot can’t be enforced. The Green Party of Tennessee and Constitution Party of Tennessee brought the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law in 2013; Green Party Co-Chair Kate Culver said the decision is a huge victory for minor parties in Tennessee and across the country.

“This is huge for the potential for third parties to have a voice in the political arena,” Culver said Thursday morning.

“We know right now people are unhappy and disgruntled with the two major parties. … There needs to be some way to get those voices heard.”

The parties sued Secretary of State Tre Hargett. Through a spokesman, Hargett said his office is reviewing the court’s decision to determine what action the state might take next.

…Tennessee law says a minor party must be recognized as a minor party to get a candidate on a ballot. That recognition requires a petition with signatures totaling at least 2.5 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election; that’d be at least 33,844 signatures based on the 2014 gubernatorial election.

After meeting that petition requirement, though, one of the party’s candidates for statewide office would have to receive at least 5 percent of the votes cast in the governor’s election to remain on the ballot for the next election. If none of the party’s candidates met that threshold, they’d have to go out and collect signatures again.

Major parties are allowed to meet that 5 percent mark at any point over the course of four years to remain on the ballot, according to Tennessee law.

“Only Tennessee’s access-retention system forces minor political parties to attain the same vote percentage as major political parties in less time,” states the court’s opinion, with emphasis added to “same” and “less” by the court.

Note: A copy of the opinion is HERE.

Jefferson County woman charged with illegal campaign mailings

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation:
KNOXVILLE – An investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has resulted in a Strawberry Plains woman being charged with violating an election law.

At the request of 4th District Attorney General James Dunn, TBI Special Agents began investigating a report of an election law violation on November 10, 2014. During the course of the investigation, Agents learned that a Jefferson County resident received a political letter in the mail in July 2014, for the election the following month. That mailing did not have the proper endorsements of who paid for the letter, in violation of state law. The investigation showed that Clarice Albright was the individual who authorized and paid for more than 12,000 of the political mailings.

On May 6th, a criminal summons was issued*, charging Albright, 68, with one count of Election Law Violation of Campaign Communications. Albright turned herself in Thursday to Jefferson County deputies. She was booked on the summons and released after being given a court date.

Note: The initial TBI news release indicated, mistakenly, that Albright was indicted by a grand jury. Instead, she was charged via a criminal summons. This post replaces original post, which included the error.

State Election Commissioner Jimmy Wallace stirs up a storm in Crockett County

Crockett County’s mayor and sheriff are among officials criticizing State Election Commissioner Jimmy Wallace for engineering replacement of three county election commissioners so that the county’s election administrator can move to another county.

The Jackson Sun reports a “standing-room only crowd” packed the Crockett County Courthouse Friday to air their complaints to U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican; State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat; and State Sen. Ed Jackson, a Republican.

Wallace told The Jackson Sun last week that he voted to appoint three new Republican members because he believes it’s unfair to require Crockett County Election Administrator Lori Lott to live in Crockett County. She moved to the county as a condition of getting the position, but now wants to move back to Madison County. The newly-appointed commissioners voted April 9 to let her make the move.

State law does not require the administrator of elections to live in the county. But the commission’s ad in Alamo’s weekly newspaper for the open position said applicants had to be residents of Crockett County, which she was not (at the time).

…Crockett County Mayor Gary Reasons said he spent time last week in Nashville speaking with both Fitzhugh and Jackson about Wallace.

“I think Mr. Jimmy Wallace should be removed,” Reasons said Friday. “I think he’s overstepped his boundaries. I really don’t think he’s fit to serve in the capacity he serves in.”

Ken Davis served as a Crockett County election commissioner for nearly 15 years. He said he was removed from his position by Wallace in 2008.

“If people in this room think it is a current issue, it is not,” Davis said. “He has been out of control since going all the way back to 2008.

“It’s been like a circus board the last few years because if he doesn’t get what he wants, you go out the door,” Davis continued.

Crockett County Sheriff Troy Klyce told the legislators there should be an investigation into Wallace’s actions.

“I think the Republicans need to stand up to this man, and the governor needs to understand we’re not going to stop until we’re heard … we’re not going to lay down because a rich person is trying to tell us what to do,” Klyce said.

…Wallace told The Jackson Sun on Friday that he believes the most important thing in the whole ordeal is that Lott has come in and done a respectable job in Crockett County. Where she lives shouldn’t matter, he said.

“If she is doing the job that I am told she is doing, and she did do in that November election, then that’s all that matters,” Wallace said. “And the fact that there’s been a storm stirred because of the residency issues doesn’t take away from the number one important thing and that is for the elections to be running properly.

“Even with all the furor, Crockett County is getting an excellent administrator that’s going to do the right thing and make sure those elections are run properly,” he said.

…Jackson and Fitzhugh said time was running short in this legislative session to take any action (but they would be looking into the matter.)