State GOP Executive Committee calls special meeting

Published 9:42 am Friday, February 6, 2015

The Executive Committee of the Tennessee Republican Party plans to meet Saturday in Nashville to discuss a proposal that would change the primary election process.
The committee will discuss recommending that Tennessee lawmakers change legislation to close the primaries in Tennessee.
That means voters would have to register with political parties before casting ballots in primary elections, and they could vote only for candidates identifying with the same party if the proposal passes and is approved by the state. In other words, only registered Republicans could vote in Republican primaries, and only registered Democrats could vote in Democratic primaries.
Former Unicoi County sheriff and Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committeeman Kent Harris was one of 16 members to request the special called meeting in Nashville Saturday.
“We have discussed this for years, and it is time to vote,” Harris said. “That’s the good thing about bringing this up now. If we do make a change, there are no elections in 2015. I think it’d be better, if there’s going to be a change, to do it this year. You wouldn’t want to do it in an election year and make a change right before the election.”
Committeewoman Sarah Sellers said the meeting will give the group time to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed change.
“We have been trying to get information out to the people to see if they have issues with the primary,” Sellers said. “We wanted to get all of the information we could so we could have a thorough discussion. I look forward to it. It will be quite a day.”
Harris has also spoken with numerous people about the change. He said he has heard some concerns from Democrats in East Tennessee that the move would limit their voice in elections.
“There are some concerns,” he said. “This is a pretty strong Republican area, and generally whoever wins the Republican primary wins the general election. The Democrats feel they will have no voice if this change is approved.”
Harris said changing the primary election system would prevent party crossover influence and allow political parties to choose their best candidates for the general election.
“In other areas of the state, there has been strategic crossover voting,” he said. “There is the potential you could get someone elected that does not support the policies of the party.
“There’s a stark contrast in the platforms of the Republican and the Democratic parties, and you want to elect a strong Republican in the primary. This would allow Republicans the choice to do that instead of the Democrat coming in and voting in the Republican primary,” Harris said.
If the change is approved, voters will have to register by party to vote in a primary. Currently, voters may choose to vote in either party’s primary.
“It’s really just clarifying the law as it is now,” Harris said. “It says people have to be a bona fide member of a party to vote in the primary. This is not that much different than what we have now except there would be a party registration.”
Harris said he welcomed comments from citizens concerning the change. He can be contacted at 423-220-0577.

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