Ask The Right Questions About County Mayor Race

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

It’s important to ask the right questions.

If the question is whether Weston Wamp built a coalition consisting of more than solely “Vote Red till Dead” types, then he is guilty.  This coalition had the advantage of having an additional small percentage of “Vote Blue no Matter Who” sorts as well as moderates.  One should bear in mind that most Hamilton County voters are not registered members of any political party, and one shouldn’t assume that voters are only “Team Red” or “Team Blue”.  Weston’s opponents are right to point out those small additional voters who put him over the top likely weren’t Republicans.  They are wrong to insist that because they were Republicans, they must therefore be Democrats. 

Weston Wamp has intentionally built up this coalition.  He campaigned in districts that were more “purple” than “red”.  In his podcasts, he took positions that strayed away from the Republican zeitgeist (in one podcast he argued that the 2020 election was legitimate). His approach to education was less about keeping schools free of identity issues, and more about goals and funding. He frequently contributed opinion articles to The Chattanoogan, and his supporters were on the Chattanooga page of reddit. His campaign had less emphasis on sloganeering, less emphasis on national politics, and more focus on solutions that were mindful of prior approaches to local endemic problems.

Instead, the question is one of law.  Tennessee’s primaries aren’t “open”, they are instead “semi-open”.  There are stipulations on who can vote.  April Edison brought up § 2-7-115 (b), which states that voters in the Republican Primary must either be bona fide members, affiliated members, or both declare allegiance to the party and declare intention to affiliate with the party.  If there was crossover voting (which I don’t think anyone is contesting), it was indeed illegal.

The question then becomes how § 2-7-115 (b) was meant to be enforced.  I pulled my 2019 edition of Tennessee Election Laws, published by LexisNexis, from my bookshelf.  (If LexisNexis is not your thing, FindLaw also works).  § 2-7 is titled “Chapter 7, Procedure at the Polling Place”.  The enforcement of § 2-7-115 (b) was meant to occur at the polling sites, not afterward.  I’ll quote § 2-7-126 in its entirety…

          “A person offering to vote in a primary may also be challenged on the ground that the person is not qualified under § 2-7-115(b). Such a challenge shall be disposed of under the procedure of §§ 2-7-123 -- 2-7-125 by the judge or judges and the other election officials of the party in whose primary the voter applied to vote, with a total of three (3) to decide the challenge.”

If Ms. Smedley or Mr. Hullander opposed crossover voting, representatives from their campaigns should have been at the polling places challenging the validity of the voters before they cast their vote, not afterward.  Regardless of one’s view on this law in terms of feasibility of enforcement, practicality, or morality, that’s where the law stands. 

Political parties are private organizations, not governmental entities.  The best analogy would be a private sports team that plays at a state-operated stadium.  They are free to vacate, discount, and even contradict the results of primary elections.  (An example is the 2008 Michigan Democratic presidential primary).

The Tennessee State Republican Party may indeed invalidate the results of the primaries, which happens when private entities don’t like the results of an election (I fondly recall the “Boaty McBoatface” controversy in the UK).  I doubt that will happen though, given that Weston had to qualify as a Republican candidate with that same body, and they wouldn’t likely revoke their imprimatur.  More to the point, I think that overall Republicans are tiring of candidates who avoid the middle, and are happy to court local, rather than nationalistic, partisan tendencies. 

If it goes before a judge though, he or she will see that if crossover voting occurred, the time to remedy such an infraction should have been on voting day, at the polls, and thus their window for remedy has long-since elapsed. 

After reading this, you may have questions such as “Why do we use state-sanctioned, state-funded, and state-regulated voting to determine the actions of private organizations that are free to ignore the results?  Should Tennessee switch to closed primaries?  Do primaries weed out moderates so that we are only left with the “Reddest of the Red” and “Bluest of the Blue” as options in the general election?  Do primaries perpetuate the two-party system?  Would ranked-choice voting using Ranked Pairs or the Schulze Method be a better alternative?”  Those, I think, are the right questions.

Tim Born

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