Election Commission Gave No Special Treatment To Tom Decosimo

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In an "opinion" written by Judy Frank on June 24, 2020, she makes several assumptions or assertions which are false and misleading.  Ms. Frank accuses the Hamilton County Election Commission of extending the qualifying deadline at the request of Tom Decosimo to allow him to qualify as a candidate for the school board race for District 2. 

It appears that Ms. Frank did not research either the facts or the applicable law in this situation.  The facts are simple.  Kathy Lennon is the incumbent school board member from District 2, and her treasurer during her term from 2016 to March of 2020 was Marco Perez.  Ms. Lennon picked up papers to qualify to run for re-election in March of 2020, as did her treasurer who also picked up papers to run for the same elected position. 

The qualifying deadline was set for April 2, 2020, by the State Election Office.  Both Ms. Lennon and Mr. Perez qualified prior to the deadline.  The withdrawal deadline was noon on April 9, 2020 which was also set by the Tennessee State Election Commission.   Before the withdrawal deadline, but after the qualifying deadline, Ms. Lennon withdrew from the race as the incumbent on April 9, 2020, leaving her former campaign treasurer as the only candidate to be listed on the ballot for the August 6, 2020 election. 

Ms. Frank claims in her "opinion" piece that the “Hamilton County Election Officials complied with his (Tom Decosimo) request, enabling Mr. Decosimo to qualify late and his name appear on the ballot.”  This statement by Ms. Frank is false.  Mr. Decosimo never made such a request nor did the Hamilton County Election Commission make such a determination.  It did not have to. 

T.C.A. Section 2-5-101(h) is known as the Anti-Skullduggery Act of 1991. T.C.A. § 2-5-101(h)(3) clearly states, “If an incumbent withdraws during the period … the provisions of this subsection (h) shall operate to … Extend the period a person may qualify for a nonpartisan general election.”

Any time an incumbent in Tennessee withdraws after the qualifying deadline but before the withdrawal deadline, the qualifying deadline is automatically extended to allow any person to qualify as a candidate. The Hamilton County Election Commission did not have to meet and vote to extend the qualifying deadline.  Ms. Lennon’s withdrawing after the qualifying deadline created a situation where T.C.A. § 2-5-101(h)(3) automatically extended the qualifying deadline.  This law has been in effect since 1991.

The Anti-Skullduggery Act seeks to prevent incumbents from orchestrating their own replacement.  A powerful incumbent may be tempted to step aside if their protégé or friend can replace them.  In that case, both the powerful incumbent as well as their protégé qualifies to run.  If no one else qualifies, then the incumbent withdraws from the race after the qualifying deadline leaving the protégé unopposed.  If an unexpected powerful challenger qualifies, then the protégé withdraws, leaving the incumbent to run for re-election. 

Skullduggery is defined as “underhanded or unscrupulous behavior.”  The Hamilton County Election Commission never considered whether Ms. Lennon secretly conspired with her campaign treasurer to orchestrate that he would be the only candidate on the ballot.   The Anti-Skullduggery Act of 1991 applied to Ms. Lennon’s actions regardless of her motives or intentions. 

Accordingly, Mr. Decosimo never requested, and the Hamilton County Election Commission never needed to vote to extend the qualifying deadline. Ms. Frank’s claims or implications of special treatment by the Hamilton County Election Commission are false. 

The Hamilton County Election Commission has voted unanimously (all Republicans and all Democrats) on every issue in 2020.  Despite Ms. Frank’s accusation this commission has not granted any request by any candidate to extend any deadlines. 

Chris Clem

Hamilton County Election Commissioner


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