HB2011 Fills Accountability Gap In Tennessee’s Election Laws
Photo Credit: MaxPixel – Public Domain / Brent Moore / CC
By Donald Beehler [contributor to The Tennessee Conservative] –
Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) recently introduced House Bill 2011, which fills an important accountability gap in Tennessee’s election laws. It does so by establishing a formal process by which a person may file a complaint with the state election commission (SEC) “alleging malfeasance or neglect of duty by a member of the state election commission or a county election commissioner.”
Currently, there is no process in place for citizens to hold SEC members or county election commissioners accountable for their actions, despite the fact that there is a detailed “Code of Conduct for County Election Commission Members” to which they are expected to adhere.
According to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website, after making appointments,“the state commissioners then monitor the activities and performance of the county election commissioners and shall remove a county election commissioner for violation of the oath of office or if that person is no longer qualified to hold the position,” per T.C.A. 2-12-101(b).
With hundreds of county election commissioners statewide, it’s hard to imagine the SEC being able to fulfill this requirement without an opportunity for citizens to bring violations to their attention.
This is not a theoretical problem; HB 2011 was created in response to my communication with Rep. Casada when SEC members ignored concerns I submitted about a Williamson County election commissioner prior to her reappointment. This individual is cofounder of a far-left organization that has demonstrated a pattern of hostility and intolerance toward conservatives for many years.
In fact, the chairman of the Williamson County Election Commission rebuked her in writing, stating that her “partisan political involvement and partisan comments” were “contrary to the Conflict of Interest Policy of the State Election Commission for County Election Commissions. Additionally, they hinder the purpose of our Commission and our endeavor to provide fair and impartial election oversight. If you want to engage in partisan politics, it would be in your best interests to resign from the Williamson County Election Commission…”
Through an open records request, I discovered 17 Williamson County residents had contacted the SEC with concerns about this county election commissioner, and requested that she not be reappointed. A significant amount of documentation was included, yet there is no evidence that these concerns were investigated or even addressed.
The SEC members reappointed her without discussion prior to the vote. Apparently, providing fair and impartial election oversight is not a priority for them.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins declined to answer all but one of my questions and attempted to distance themselves from this matter.
Mr. Goins indicated I could file a complaint with the SEC chair, which I did by sending her a letter via certified mail last July. Since there is no formal process for handling such complaints, mine was ignored, which led me to contact Rep. Casada. He quickly recognized the need for a remedy.
Under HB 2011, “The (SEC) chair shall present the complaint to the commission at the next regularly scheduled meeting of the commission with a quorum present for a preliminary hearing on the complaint…Each party is entitled to present evidence in support of the respective party’s position as to whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant a formal show cause hearing.”
Tennesseans deserve to have their concerns about election commissioners heard in a public form and be given fair consideration. Without HB 2011, SEC members can continue to ignore violations of the “Code of Conduct” when such violations are brought to their attention by citizens, and likewise disregard their obligations under Tennessee law. This is a recipe for corruption, arrogance and abuse on the part of an entity that oversees Tennessee elections.
Every member of the Tennessee General Assembly who believes in bipartisan election integrity, accountability and transparency ought to support HB 2011.
About the Author: Don Beehler is a retired public relations consultant in Franklin, Tennessee.