The man who knows says the county election commissions will have no say in deciding whether individuals meet party requirements to be on a party primary ballot.
Cliff Rodgers was in Pigeon Forge on Thursday at a meeting of the East Tennessee Association of County Election Officials. He asked Mark Goins, state administrator of elections, to clarify two points, following an inquiry by KnoxTNToday.com regarding the procedure to enforce a change in the Republican Party bylaws, first reported here.
Goins said local election commissions must defer to the Republican and Democratic parties to certify party candidates. And the parties have until the candidate withdrawal deadline to state in writing if someone who otherwise met the criteria is disqualified, Rodgers said.
“For people like me, that’s great,” Rodgers added. “I don’t like problems.”
By using the withdrawal deadline, which is one week after the qualifying deadline, the election commissions will have time to prepare a ballot and get it mailed to military personnel serving overseas.
This writer sees two huge problems with this determination:
- The Republican Party bylaws give the state party chair, currently Scott Golden from Jackson, Tenn., the right to determine whether individuals have the proper bona fides to be allowed on the GOP primary ballot. Although Golden promised a quick response to concerns when he spoke in Knoxville, a party chair could simply wait until after the qualifying deadline to boot a candidate from the ballot. No new candidate need apply. Think about a race you care about: What if Tim Burchett, running for Congress, is challenged by someone who remembers that back in the dusty past he and then-Sen. Mike Williams voted for John Wilder rather than Ron Ramsey for Senate speaker (lieutenant governor). Wilder served two more years, even though Republicans held the Senate majority. Williams was expelled from the party and now serves as Union County mayor as an independent. Burchett escaped punishment, but elephants have long memories.
- If the county election commissions are truly “handling these primaries for the parties,” as Rodgers says and case law has affirmed, why aren’t the parties paying for them? Think about it. The election commission handles elections for the town of Farragut and the city of Knoxville. Both pay the costs.
Don’t say this can’t happen. Weird stuff happens. The state Legislature should address the rights and responsibilities of political parties in determining who gets on the ballot. It’s too important to be left to one guy or a few folks in a smoke-filled room.