Election officials, TN GOP director discuss write-in campaigns

Published 4:23 pm Friday, June 22, 2018

As the county moves from the Primary Election held in May toward the General Election set for August, several residents have raised questions regarding candidates who lost races during the Primary but have since renewed their campaigns as write-in candidates.

According to the Carter County Election Commission, three candidates who lost their bid for Republican nomination in May launched write-in bids against the Republican nominees in the upcoming August 2 County General Election.

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The Elizabethton Star has received questions from readers asking if it is legal for a candidate who loses in the primary to launch a write-in campaign seeking the same office. According to local election officials, the answer is yes.

In order to have write-in votes count, an individual must first complete a Certificate of Write-In Candidacy with their local Election Commission office. Carter County Administrator of Elections Tracy Harris said candidates running write-in campaigns must meet the same qualifications for office as candidates whose names will appear on the ballot. For example, if the requirements for an office require a candidate to be a certain age or have specific certifications, a write-in candidate must also meet those standards.

There is no election law that prohibits an individual from launching a write-in campaign after losing a primary election.

While there are no state or federal laws barring such write-in campaigns, some individuals could face repercussions from their affiliated party as a result of launching a write-in bid.

Michael Sullivan, Executive Director of the Tennessee Republican Party, told the Elizabethton Star that individuals launching write-in campaigns after losing the Republican Party Primary could be barred from holding any leadership position within the party and from seeking any Republican nomination in the future for an undefined period of time. Any decision to remove such sanctions would be at the discretion of the State Party Chairman, according to Sullivan.

Because Tennessee does not require voters to be members of a party to register to vote, Sullivan said the party does not have the authority to revoke someone’s status as a Republican, however they do have the power to have them removed from a Republican Primary ballot and to bar them from leadership positions. That authority comes from the Party’s bylaws, which requires someone to be a “bona fide Republican.” The bylaws define a “bona fide Republican” as an individual who is actively involved in the Tennessee Republican Party, their County Republican Party, or any of the recognized auxiliary organizations; has voted in at least three of the four most recent statewide Republican Primary elections; or any individual who is vouched for in writing to the satisfaction of the State Chairman as a “bona fide Republican” by an officer of the State Party, State Executive Committee, or County Executive Committee or by a Republican Elected Official.

“The law gives us pretty broad authority to define who is a ‘bona fide’ member,” Sullivan said.

Another of the Party’s bylaws states that no member of the Republican Party leadership or individual member “shall endorse, or assist in any manner, a Democrat or other non-Republican in an election or primary election in which a Republican is a candidate or has filed as a candidate.”

According to Sullivan, it is the combination of those two bylaws that grants the Republican Party the authority to bar individuals from leadership or future Primaries by revoking their “bona fide Republican” status.

“Someone who runs against a Republican is obviously not supportive of the party’s candidate,” Sullivan said. “Especially individuals who lose the Republican nomination and then launch a write-in campaign can have their bona fide status seriously challenged.”

“Someone making the challenge can say if they ran against the Republican nominee they don’t have the interest of the party at heart,” he added.

If someone launches a write-in campaign against a Republican nominee or supports another candidate running against a Republican nominee, and then in a later election tries to seek the party’s nomination their status with the party can be challenged, Sullivan said. A challenge to an individual’s “bona fide Republican” status requires two registered voters from within the individual’s county to file challenges with the Tennessee Republican Party, according to Sullivan.

“Per state law, the state party is allowed to remove them from the ballot if we find they are not ‘bona fide Republicans,” Sullivan said.