The GOP Is Asking Tennessee’s Lawmakers to Close The State’s Open Primaries

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Republican Party of Tennessee has asked state lawmakers to change Tennessee’s open primary to a closed one for the first time by requiring voters to register with one of the two parties in order to vote in either of their primaries.

The State Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Tennessee has taken up the issue of closing the Volunteer State’s open primaries since as far back as 2010, but overturning this longstanding aspect of Tennessee politics has never found support with a majority of the state GOP’s members until now.

On Saturday the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee passed a resolution to request that the Tennessee General Assembly (which is controlled by the Republican Party) pass an election reform law that would prohibit “cross over” voting.

This would be the end of open primaries in Tennessee.

But the TN Republican Party’s attempted clampdown on voter freedom doesn’t end there. The same day the Tennessee Republican Party passed a resolution to push independent voters out of the state’s partisan primaries, it adopted a second resolution to make it harder for those voters to get a candidate of their own on the ballot:

“Republican SEC members also approved a second resolution calling on lawmakers to increase the number of signatures from registered voters that candidates must gather in order to run for public office.

The current requirement is 25 signatures whether someone is running for a town council or governor or U.S. Senate. Among other things, the state GOP wants to raise the statewide number of signatures to 1,000.”

That is really adding insult to injury. This second resolution makes it evident that the Tennessee Republican Party doesn’t merely want to restrict its party primary to registered members, but to make it easier for the two main parties in Tennessee to rig election results, that this is indeed a clampdown on voter choice and freedom, an attempt to put the outcome of Tennessee elections more firmly under the control of the party machinery.

As an independent voter who has resided in Tennessee for nearly the entire time I’ve been eligible to vote, the open primaries here have enfranchised me by allowing me to weigh in on a party primary of my choice each election without having to join a party.

This is important to me because I value my independence and want to decide for myself what I think about policies and candidates on an issue by issue and candidate by candidate basis, and not feel the pressure to march in lockstep with any party’s dogma or support a candidate just because they belong to a certain party, not because I really feel strongly that that individual should hold a public office.

Yet nearly all candidates who hold public office are filtered through party primaries, so a closed primary in Tennessee would leave me and other independent voters in the state stuck choosing between whichever two candidates were picked by the most dedicated partisans voting in closed primaries. And that’s not right, because in a system where all voters are supposed to be equal, it would make some voters more equal than others.