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Last Wednesday (March 10), the House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee took up HB609 sponsored by Rep Bud Hulsey (R – Kingsport). This bill sought to move Tennessee closer to “Free & Equal” elections per the state constitution’s mandate.

During the voice vote, the “ayes” prevailed in the majority (4-3) yet the legislation was still killed by the House Subcommittee. Here’s what happened.

First, a background on why this legislation is important:

In Tennessee, running as a Democrat, Republican, or Independent for any partisan office requires the candidate to collect 25 signatures from registered voters in the candidate’s district. However, to run statewide with any other party by your name, a C for Constitution Party, G for Green Party, or any other letter(s) you need 56,082 (2.5% of the votes cast in the governor’s race in 2018). 

As of 2018, Tennessee had the 3rd highest signature requirement behind Texas and California, the two most populous states. Learn more with our case study.

Rep Hulsey’s legislation (HB0609) does three things: 

  1. 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.  
  2. 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%.  
  3. Furthermore, it protects taxpayers from costly primaries by setting a 25% threshold for minor parties to trigger a state subsidy for mandatory primaries.

During the subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, there were several notable moments. Specifically:

Prior to the vote, our legislative operations team had procured confirmation from 5 of the 8 committee members on their intention to vote “aye” on this legislation giving us a strong majority. These individuals 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 individuals confirmed or leaning “nay” were:

  • Rep John Crawford (R – Bristol)
  • Rep Tim Rudd (R – Murfreesboro)
  • Rep Johnny Shaw (D – Bolivar)

A few minutes before the vote, Rep Williams stepped out of the room, leaving the legislation with a 3 (nay) – 4 (aye) majority.

When Chairman Rudd proceeded to the voice vote, all four remaining projected “aye’s” voted in the affirmative, with Rep Williams recording his “aye” vote with the clerk after the vote had closed. Yet, in spite of the “aye” majority, Chairman Rudd gaveled it for the “nays” effectively killing the legislation.

In the days after the vote, our membership took their time to reach out to their lawmakers as constituents to confirm the “ayes” did, in fact, vote in the affirmative. 

With email correspondence provided to us, we can confirm that the legislation did, in fact, have 4 “aye’s” during the voice vote, notwithstanding Rep Williams’ recorded “aye” vote after the hearing, leaving the legislation with the 5-3 majority vote we projected.

Here’s our perspective:

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: 

  1. Chairman Rudd misheard the vote and now has an opportunity to make it right by bringing HB609 back for reconsideration. 
  2. Or, Chairman Rudd acted intentionally.

We’re calling for our members to reach out to Chairman Rudd urging him to support a motion for reconsideration on HB609 before time runs out:

Rep Tim Rudd (R – Murfreesboro) – rep.tim.rudd@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-2804

Please also reach out to the bill’s supporters and thank them for their continued support of “Free & Equal” elections in Tennessee:

Rep Ryan Williams (R – Cookeville) – rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-1875
Rep Eddie Mannis (R – Knoxville) – rep.eddie.mannis@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-2287
Rep Harold Love (D – Nashville) – rep.harold.love@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-3831
Rep David Wright (R – Corryton) – rep.dave.wright@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-6879
Rep John Holsclaw (R – Elizabethton) – rep.john.holsclaw@capitol.tn.gov – (615) 741-7450