elections

7 Republicans decline to sign state House letter demanding litigation over presidential election

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House Republican Caucus is getting in on the letter-writing campaign to support President Donald Trump’s lawsuits over having the outcome of the presidential election called against him.

“When there are alleged software glitches, lost or destroyed ballots, and questionable practices implemented in some areas of the country, litigation must have a day in court to decide the outcome of this election process,” according to the letter signed by 66 of 73 House members.

Just as with an earlier letter written by state Senate Republicans, there were holdouts. Seven members of the lower chamber declined to affix their signatures to the communique: Reps. Michael Curcio of Dickson, Johnny Garrett of Goodlettsville, Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, Justin Lafferty of Knoxville, Eddie Mannis of Knoxville, Bob Ramsey of Maryville, and Sam Whitson of Franklin.

Here’s the letter:

To all Tennesseans,

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus unequivocally and staunchly stands with President of the United States Donald J. Trump in demanding that all legal ballots, and only legal ballots, be counted in the 2020 presidential election.

Voting is one of the most fundamental pieces of our American republic. One person equals one vote in a system that grants justice and equality for all in deciding our government. In an election where there are alleged examples of voter fraud and malpractice, Tennessee Republicans stand with the rule of law.

We shall not accept the idea that the national media or the political elite have the official say on the winner of any election, let alone the presidency. It is up to the official systems put in place by the constitution and by the people. When there are alleged software glitches, lost or destroyed ballots, and questionable practices implemented in some areas of the country, litigation must have a day in court to decide the outcome of this election process.

We uphold the idea of protecting the rights of all Americans, liberal or conservative, to have their voices heard. After all legal ballots are counted and any illegal ballots are removed, we support confirming the victor. A peaceful transition to the next term, whether it be the incumbent or the challenger, is paramount to our system of government.

We stand with all Tennesseans in defending the integrity of elections. We are asking for the election process to have the ability to finish before prematurely declaring a winner.

It matters who governs,

/signed/
Speaker Cameron Sexton
Chairman Jeremy Faison
Leader William Lamberth
Rebecca Alexander
Charlie Baum
Clark Boyd
Rush Bricken
David Byrd
Kent Calfee
Scotty Campbell
Dale Carr
Michele Carringer
Mike Carter
Glen Casada
Scott Cepicky
Mark Cochran
John Crawford
Tandy Darby
Clay Doggett
Rick Eldridge
Andrew Farmer
Ron Gant
John Gillespie
Bruce Griffey
Rusty Grills
Curtis Halford
Mark Hall
Kirk Haston
David Hawk
Esther Helton
Gary Hicks
Tim Hicks
John Holsclaw
Dan Howell
Bud Hulsey
Chris Hurt
Curtis Johnson
Kelly Keisling
Sabi Kumar
Tom Leatherwood
Mary Littleton
Susan Lynn
Pat Marsh
Debra Moody
Jerome Moon
Brandon Ogles
Dennis Powers
John Ragan
Jay Reedy
Tim Rudd
Iris Rudder
Lowell Russell
Jerry Sexton
Paul Sherrell
Robin Smith
Mike Sparks
Bryan Terry
Chris Todd
Ron Travis
Kevin Vaughan
Todd Warner
Terri Lynn Weaver
Mark White
Ryan Williams
Dave Wright
Jason Zachary
 

Poll: Trump holds 56% to 42% advantage over Biden in Tennessee

Campaign signs outside an early voting location in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican President Donald Trump leads Democrat Joe Biden by 14 percentage points, according to a new SurveyMonkey-Tableau 2020 poll.

The online poll of 4,642 likely voters had Trump with 56% and Biden with 42%. Trump won Tennessee 61% to 35% against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Among men, 65% preferred Trump, while 34% backed Biden. Women were split 49% to 49% between the two candidates.

Biden was ahead in Tennessee among younger voters (65% of those 24 or younger and 55% of those between 25 and 34), but Trump held a wide advatage among older voters (62% of those between 45 and 64).

Trump led by a margin of 70% to 29% in rural areas, though that advantage dropped to 53% to 45% in the suburbs. Biden led 60% to 37% in urban areas.

The poll is co-sponsored by the political news site Axios. But polling site FiveThirtyEight.com doesn’t hold the survey in particularly high regard, giving it a D-minus rating.

One week left to register for November election

The deadline to register for the Nov. 3 election is one week away. Here’s a release from Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office laying out the particulars:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennesseans who want to vote in the Nov. 3 State and Federal General Election only have one week until the voter registration deadline on Monday, Oct. 5.

“To make your voice heard at the polls on Election Day, you need to register to vote,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “With the convenience of our online voter registration system, it’s never been easier or safer for Tennesseans to register to vote or update their registration.”

Registering to vote, updating your address or checking your registration status is fast, easy and secure with the Secretary of State’s online voter registration system. Any U.S. citizen with a driver’s license or a photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security can register online from any computer or mobile device at GoVoteTN.com.

Voters can also download a paper voter registration application at GoVoteTN.com.

Completed paper voter registration applications must be submitted or postmarked to your local county election commission office by Oct. 5. 

Election Day registration is not available. 

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election starts Wednesday, Oct. 14, and runs Monday to Saturday until Thursday, Oct. 29.

Voters can find early voting and Election Day polling locations, view and mark sample ballots and much more at GoVoteTN.com or on the free GoVoteTN app available in the App Store and Google Play.

For the latest information on the Nov. 3 election, follow the Secretary of State’s social media channels Twitter: @SecTreHargett, Facebook: Tennessee Secretary of State and Instagram: @tnsecofstate. For more information about registering to vote, voter eligibility, photo IDs, and other Election Day details visit GoVoteTN.com or call the Division of Elections toll-free at 1-877-850-4959.

Hargett says it will be ‘surprise’ if full results available by end of Election Day

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Secretary of State Tre Hargett says it will be a surprise if full results are available by the end of Election Day, according to reporter Hank Hayes of the Kingsport Times-News.

“We’re going to see a spike in absentee ballots. I don’t know how heavy that will be,” Hargett said. “I hope I’m pleasantly surprised like I was in August, when 95 counties had their election results done by midnight.”

The Secretary of State’s office has taken to the courts to try to fend off efforts to expand access to absentee voting during the pandemic.

Early voting starts on Oct. 14 and runs through Oct. 29. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. Mail-in ballots must be received via the Postal Service by Election Day in order to be counted.

Hayes pressed Hargett on his plans after the election.

“We’re trying to run an election 50 days from now,” Hargett said. “I am going to ask the legislature to re-elect me for another four-year term in January. I’ve got a lot of work to do. We still see a lot of areas where we think we can do better in. That’s what I’m focused on.”

A joint convention of the General Assembly will vote on the next four-year term for the Secretary of State in January. Hargett, a former state lawmaker, was first elected to the job in 2009. He got into some hot water in 2014 after a staffer reserved a website for a potential gubernatorial bid.

Hargett acknowledged to WTVF-TV at the time it might not have looked good, but said the site had been reserved to protect him from someone else grabbing it. He later announced he wouldn’t run for governor.

Republican executive committee rejects challenge of Mannis’ primary win

The Tennessee Republican Party’s executive committee has voted 43-18 against a motion to remove Eddie Mannis as the Republican nominee in state House District 18.

Mannis won the primary by 99 votes over real estate agent Gina Oster, who challenged the outcome based on allegations of crossover voting by Democrats.

Mannis will face Democrat Virginia Couch in November.

Here’s a statement from Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini about the GOP proceedings:

Republicans are scrambling to find a candidate who can beat Virginia Couch and all they had to choose from is a political flip-flopper and a far right extremist, both are wrong for the district and neither of them are the candidate House District 18 needs, wants, or deserves.

Tennessee GOP to decide whether to overturn result of Knoxville House primary

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Republican’s Party’s state executive committee is scheduled to hold a conference call Wednesday evening to decide a challenge of businessman Eddie Mannis’ 99-vote win over real estate agent Gina Oster in the GOP primary for an open state House seat in Knoxville.

Oster, who had the backing of conservative activists, claims Democratic crossover voting made he difference for Mannis. Of course, there’s no way to say from whom voters cast their secret ballots and a counter-argument is that they might have been voting for Oster to give Democratic nominee Virginia Couch an easier path toward victory in November.

Local party activists had sought to keep Mannis off the ballot entirely because of moderate positions and his vote in the Democratic presidential primary in March. But Party Chairman Scott Golden turned back that challenge after Mannis was vouched for by Republican luminaries such as Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, and state Sen. Richard Briggs.

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe has been keeping a close eye on proceedings, and reports in his column that Knox County executive committee members Jane Chedester and Michele Carringer (herself the GOP nominee to succeed retiring Knoxville Rep. Bill Dunn) have indicated they support retaining Mannis’ nomination. So has incumbent Rep. Martin Daniel, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Here’s Ashe’s take:

Defeated GOP legislative candidate Gina Oster keeps trying to snatch a win from Eddie Mannis…. It is hard to believe that a committee in Nashville would discard the valid election result. Oster previously lost a school board contest to Doug Harris. If Oster is handed a nomination she did not win fair and square at the ballot box, the Democratic nominee, Virginia Couch, would become the odds-on favorite to win in November.

As The Tennessee Journal reported recently, the district is no longer a lock for Republicans. Daniel won just 51.5% of the vote in 2018, slightly underperforming the 53% received by Bill Lee in the governor’s race and by Burchett in his bid for Congress. And fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn got just 46% of the district’s vote in the U.S. Senate race against former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen two years ago. While 57% voted for Trump in 2016, the president’s numbers are expected to be far weaker this year.

Given the increasingly swing characteristics of District 18, the GOP attacks on Mannis are all the more perplexing. As a well-respected businessman and founder of a nonprofit organization flying veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, Mannis’ more moderate leanings appear to make him a stronger candidate in the general election. But he clearly wasn’t the choice of hardliners who contributed to Oster during the primary. They included House Majority Leader William Lamberth, and Reps. Daniel, Clay Doggett, Rick Eldridge, Johnny Garrett, Bruce Griffey, and Chris Todd.

Plaintiffs in absentee voting case file contempt motion against state

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit over Tennessee’s absentee voting law have filed a contempt motion against the state for alleged violations of the judge’s order to immediately begin supplying mail-in ballots to anyone who asks for one.

Following last week’s ruling, State Election Coordinator Mark Goins sent an email to local officials telling them to “hold off” on sending absentee voting applications until the state could revise its forms or seek a stay in the judge’s order. The state then created a new category on its ballot application form that states voters are requesting to vote by mail because they have “determined it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in person due to the COVID-19 situation and therefore qualify as hospitalized, ill, or disabled and unable to appear at my polling place.”

The plaintiffs argue that the creation of that category wasn’t permitted by the court order, that it includes no definition of the “impossible or unreasonable” standard, and that there is no provision for someone to certify they can’t vote in person because they are caring for someone else.

“This unilateral disregard of the Court’s Order is designed to place increased scrutiny on voters who wish to do nothing more than to rely on this Court’s Order, lead to voter confusion and intimidation, and enable the state to segregate these voters’ absentee ballot requests and refrain from processing them,” according to the motion.

“The State has made calculated decisions to act contrary to the plain text of the Order and has instructed county election officials to do the same,” the plaintiffs said.

Goins told The Associated Press the state is complying and the plaintiffs aren’t citing the most up-to-date guidance.

“We are disappointed that plaintiffs have chosen to pursue a false narrative by leaving out updated guidance we distributed to counties on Friday that is being implemented,” Goins told the AP.

A hearing before Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle has been scheduled for Thursday.

Polls find support for expanded absentee voting during pandemic

Two polls released Tuesday indicate strong support for expanding voting by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic.

One survey conducted on behalf of Secure Democracy by Republican pollster Anchor Research and the Baker Group found 67% of Tennesseans support allowing all voters to cast absentee ballots while also keeping polling locations open. Another 31% were opposed.

A survey conducted on behalf of Vanderbilt University found 57% support voting by mail, while 42% opposed. The SSRS poll found opinions were heavily influenced by voters’ political leanings. While 81% of self-identified Democrats said they supported absentee balloting, 71% of Republicans were opposed. Among independents, 68% said they were in favor, while 32% were against.

Among other findings, Secure Democracy found a 61% to 33% approval rating for Gov. Bill Lee and a 57% to 43% favorability rating for President Donald Trump.

Vanderbilt had Lee’s approval rating at 64% to 27%, and Trump’s at 51% to 47%.

Vanderbilt polled 1,000 registered voters by phone between May 5 and May 22. It has a margin of error of ±3.8 percentage points. Secure Democracy’s online poll of 740 likley voters was conducted on May 26.

Election officials instructed not to immediately comply with judge’s order on absentee ballots

A Nashville judge has ordered the state to start issuing absentee ballots to any registered voter who requests one, but State Election Coordinator Mark Goins is telling local officials not to immediately comply.

According to Goins:

Regarding the court’s decision, until we provide further instructions, do not send out any absentee applications. We may be sending a revised form. Do not update your own forms or language on your website yet. It is very important that we have uniform language. We are working on language for our website.  In the meantime, we expect a request for stay to put the ruling on hold as soon as possible […]

If a voter calls and asks for an application because of COVID-19, go ahead and take their information so you can send them a form later with the revised language if we update the form or a stay is not granted.

That appears to conflict with Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s order, which enjoined election officials from enforcing previous rules and mandated that they “prominently post on their websites and disseminate to County Election Officials that voters who do not wish to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 virus situation are eligible to request an absentee ballot by mail or that such voters still have the option to vote in-person during Early voting or on Election Day.”

The decision to hold off on putting the order into effect is reminiscent of Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement that he would continue to urge parents to apply for school voucher while the state appealed a ruling that found the law unconstitutional. The judge later denied a motion to lift her stay and berated the Education Department for failing to inform potential applicants about the legal challenge on its website.

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Byrd accuser Rice fails to qualify for ballot

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House committee meeting on March 28, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. David Byrd won’t have to face his accuser after all.

Chrsti Rice had filed to run against Byrd (R-Waynesboro) this fall. But she failed to turn in copies of her Democratic petition in each of the four counties included in House District 71. So while Byrd has two opponents in the GOP primary, there won’t be a Democrat to take on the winner in November.

Byrd earlier this month reversed course on previous pledges to retire from his seat and filed to run for re-election.

Byrd has been accused of sexual misconduct with high school basketball players when he was their coach in the 1980s. Rice is one of those former student athletes. She recorded a phone conversation in 2018 in which Byrd apologized and told her how “hard it has been for me” to live with his actions with the woman, who was a 15 years old  at the time.