Tennessee Lawmakers Soundly Reject GOP Push To Close Primaries | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Lawmakers Soundly Reject GOP Push To Close Primaries

Mar 13, 2019

State lawmakers delivered a decisive blow Wednesday to the idea of closing off Tennessee's primary elections.

Even the watered-down version of the bill, which gave voters the option of registering with a political party, was met with skepticism.

Under the latest proposal, voters who choose to register would be allowed to vote only in that particular party's primary. But independents would still be able to vote in either primary.

More: After Plan To Close Primaries In Tennessee Fails, GOP Lawmakers Propose A Watered-Down Alternative

The legislation is part of a years-long debate in the state Republican party about so-called crossover voting, and whether it's possible to prevent Democrats from voting in their primary. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, argued that Republicans and Democrats should want to publicly claim their affiliation.

"This would just allow people who are active, who are proud of their party and want to be a registered voter, to go ahead and register," he said.

But the idea still got pushback from lawmakers who said it wasn't necessary or would make voters feel uncomfortable if they didn't want to register. Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, complained of "the hardcore liberal, hardcore right-wing" activists wanting politicians to prove their dedication to the party. 

"I've never voted in a Democratic primary in my life. I've never voted for a Democrat in my life," he said. "But this is a litmus test that I feel will just further create more of the extreme."

Rep. Gloria Johnson from Knoxville says she heard nothing but opposition, and not only from fellow Democrats.

"Every email that I've gotten is asking me to vote against this bill, and most of them are independents," she said. "Tennesseans are pretty independent minded and pragmatic."

In 2015, a Vanderbilt poll found that 82 percent of Tennesseans were in favor of keeping primaries open. The idea of closing them has yet to gain serious traction in the legislature.