New Tennessee Law Removes Exceptions Imposed During Civil Rights Era That GOP Lawmakers Say Disenfranchise Voters In Local Elections

Image Credit: Tim Bounds / CC

The Tennessee Conservative [By Kelly M. Jackson] –

A bill passed in the last session of the Tennessee General Session which goes into effect January 1st of 2024 will impose changes to the city of Knoxville’s local election process, as well as one other Tennessee municipality. 

However, it is the City of Knoxville that is pushing back on the state and investigating legal options in order to avoid having to make the changes they say they have the right to retain. 

In the last general session, Representative Elaine Davis (R-D18-Knoxville), introduced HB0817, which in summary, states: “As enacted, prohibits members of local governing bodies to be elected through an election procedure that requires candidates to be nominated from a district and elected at large. – Amends TCA Title 2 and Title 6.”

As Davis stated in her presentation of the bill to the House Floor, the legislation essentially restores the law to its original intent by removing some exceptions that, based on research, were included back in 1954. 

The original language of the law stated that if a candidate is nominated from a district, then the election of that candidate would also be by the same district voters, versus the entire city. 

Davis asserted that to then subject those district primary winners to a general election where the entire city will then have the final say, disenfranchises the voters of those districts.

The rest of the Republican supermajority that sits in the General Assembly agreed, and the bill passed through both chambers then was signed into law by Governor Bill Lee. 

The City of Knoxville has decided they won’t allow the change to take place without fighting back, stating that for the state to impose themselves in this way is overreach, and they will seek legal redress in court, depending on that options they have available. 

According to reports, the City of Knoxville will attempt to utilize the concept of home rule, which in the simplest terms, states that lawmakers can’t impose themselves on cities that function under a charter how they should operate. 

Knoxville is one of two cities in Tennessee that implemented the exceptions to the law during the civil rights era, with a goal of increasing minority representation in city government. Historically, however it has had the opposite effect, because minority candidates didn’t fare as well in general elections where the majority of voters were white. 

As the culture has changed over the decades, the issues of division seem to be more partisan based, rather than racially based. In the last Knoxville City Council election in 2021, based on local reports, the totals in each race were nearly identical, meaning voters mostly stuck to party lines, something not typically seen in nonpartisan city races. 

In that race, the left-leaning incumbents dominated the GOP backed candidates, which may not have been the case had the candidates been chosen by just those who voted for them in the primaries. 

The City of Knoxville’s argument is based on the rationale that because the entire city votes on all the candidates, it fosters an environment of cooperation, and should therefore not be changed. And when ensconced in the concept of home rule, should not be compelled to change. 

This argument could lack substance in court, when challenged with proof of voter disenfranchisement, endangering the fundamental right as Americans to choose representation in government through an open and fair electoral process. 

We will continue to follow this story and cover any news as it develops. 

About the Author: Kelly Jackson is a recent escapee from corporate America, and a California refugee to Tennessee. Christ follower, Wife and Mom of three amazing teenagers. She has a BA in Comm from Point Loma Nazarene University, and has a background in law enforcement and human resources. Since the summer of 2020, she has spent any and all free time in the trenches with local grassroots orgs, including Mom’s for Liberty Williamson County and Tennessee Stands as a core member.  Outspoken advocate for parents rights, medical freedom, and individual liberty. Kelly can be reached at

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