The Tennessee State Constitution, or officially “The Constitution of the State of Tennessee,” is lengthier, or more “wordy,” than the U.S. Constitution, when it comes to many of its provisions. This is especially true when you look at Article I, titled “Declaration of Rights,” which is Tennessee’s bill of rights, but instead of calling them amendments like the U.S. Constitution, Tennessee calls them sections, and there are 33 sections, vs 10 amendments.
If you look at Section 5 it reads:
“The elections shall be free and equal, and the right of suffrage, as hereinafter declared, shall never be denied to any person entitled thereto, except upon a conviction by a jury of some infamous crime, previously ascertained and declared by law, and judgment thereon by court of competent jurisdiction.”
Some people will argue this section only refers to individuals when it comes to voting, and nothing more. They’ll argue it doesn’t refer to voting for a particular candidate based on party, which isn’t true. Section 5 clearly states that “the elections shall be free and equal,” which not only applies to individuals when it comes to voting, it also applies to candidates, political parties, as well as every election within Tennessee, be it a local, state, or federal election.
Those who want this section to be limited to the individual voters, are the ones who either fared poorly in basic English, or reading comprehension, given that the individual is specifically discussed after stating “the elections shall be free and equal.” The word “Suffrage” alone has many definitions, and according to Dictionary.com, it means, “the right to vote, especially in a political election,” and “a vote given in favor of a proposed measure, candidate, or the like.” To me, this means an individual also has the right to vote for their chosen political party as well.
Free and Equal?
I say an individual absolutely has the right to vote for their chosen political party and the individual who’s been chosen to represent that party in a general election, especially since things like this are important to many voters. One piece of legislation HR609 would have brought our elections closer to being equal, but it was voted down on March 10th, during the “House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee.”
In Tennessee, elections are only “free and equal” for those running as a Republican, Democrat, or Independent for a partisan office, as it only requires the candidate to collect a total of 25 signatures from registered Tennessee voters who reside in the candidate’s district, or within the state for statewide offices. However, the issue is when someone wants to have a different party next to their names, such as an L for Libertarian Party, G for Green Party, or any other party. For this to happen, it requires a candidate to receive 2.5% of the votes cast in the most recent governor’s race, which based on 2018’s numbers, that’s a total of 56,082 signatures. That’s 56,057 signatures away from being equal.
HR609 was sponsored by my favorite State Representative, Bud Hulsey a fellow Republican who represents my hometown of Kingsport. Bud’s district is one district over from where I live, but that’s not the reason he’s my favorite. He’s my favorite because he understands the U.S. and State Constitution and puts his loyalty to it ahead of party loyalty.
Representative Hulsey’s (HB0609) does three things:
- It reduces the number of signatures needed from 56k (2.5%) to approximately 12k (0.5%). This brings Tennessee more in line with the median requirement for minor parties across the country.
- It also makes it marginally easier for minor parties to retain ballot access in the future by reducing the requirement for access retention from 5% of the vote to 1%.
- Furthermore, it protects taxpayers from costly primaries by setting a 25% threshold for minor parties to trigger a state subsidy for mandatory primaries.
Partisanship Over the Constitution?
Now that you know what HR609 does, let me tell you what happened during the subcommittee that’s gotten many people upset. As I said, on March 10th, during a voice vote, the “ayes” or yes votes prevailed in the majority (4-3), yet the legislation was still killed by the Chairman of the “House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee,” Representative Tim Rudd a Republican from Murfreesboro.
Prior to the vote, the legislative operations team from For All Tennessee, a group I wrote about in a prior article and interviewed on Facebook, for my Todd McKinley Commentary page, had received confirmation from 5 of the 8 subcommittee members that they intended to vote “aye” or yes on HR609. Just before Chairman Rudd called for the vote, Representative Ryan Williams (R – Cookeville), one of the aye votes, stepped out of the room, this left enough votes to pass HR609 out of subcommittee by a 4-3 margin.
When Rep Williams returned, he ensured his “aye” vote was recorded with the clerk after the vote had closed. Despite these facts, Chairman Rudd still gaveled for the “nays,” which essentially ended Tennessee’s hope for “free and equal” elections. In the days after the election, it’s been confirmed that the legislators who said they intended to vote “aye,” in fact did so.
March 10th, the tale of the tape:
- (0:15) Rep Hulsey’s remarks on the importance of the bill
- (6:25) Rep Shaw’s remarks on his opposition to the bill
- (9:09) Rep Hulsey’s response to Rep Shaw’s remarks
- (11:08) Chairman Rudd proceeds to a voice vote
These “aye” votes were:
- Rep Ryan Williams (R – Cookeville)
- Rep Eddie Mannis (R – Knoxville)
- Rep Harold Love (D – Nashville)
- Rep David Wright (R – Corryton)
- Rep John Holsclaw (R – Elizabethton)
The “nay” votes were:
- Rep John Crawford (R – Bristol)
- Rep Tim Rudd (R – Murfreesboro)
- Rep Johnny Shaw (D – Bolivar)
(Full disclosure, John Crawford is my State Representative.)
The Constitution Over Party?
Mind you, I’m a Republican, but my loyalty to the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions comes first, but before I level any allegations, I’ll simply reiterate the position taken by For All Tennessee.
“It’s obvious that both Republicans and Democrats have little to no incentive to reform Tennessee’s absurd ballot access requirements.”
“One of two things likely happened:
- Chairman Rudd misheard the vote and now has an opportunity to make it right by bringing HB609 back for reconsideration.
- Or, Chairman Rudd acted intentionally.”
If you’re like me, then you support the passage of HR609, let your voice be heard by contacting your representatives. You can also contact Chairman Rudd and urge him to support a motion for reconsideration on HB609 before time runs out:
Also reach out to the representatives who supported HR609 and thank them for supporting “Free & Equal” elections in Tennessee:
- Rep Ryan Williams (R – Cookeville) – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-1875
- Rep Eddie Mannis (R – Knoxville) – email@example.com – (615) 741-2287
- Rep Harold Love (D – Nashville) – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-3831
- Rep David Wright (R – Corryton) – email@example.com – (615) 741-6879
- Rep John Holsclaw (R – Elizabethton) – firstname.lastname@example.org – (615) 741-7450
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