By Holly McCall [Tennessee Lookout -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0] –
The Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee voted to uphold election results in two Williamson County races on Thursday during a 90-minute meeting−the second day of a two-day discussion of the challenges—with committee members again expressing their desire for closed primaries.
Christopher Richards, a candidate for Williamson County Commission District 7 challenged the outcome of his race, while Williamson County School Board candidate Ali Adair challenged the outcome of her bid to unseat incumbent Eric Welch.
Both races were close: Richards came in third place behind incumbent GOP commissioners Tom Tunnicliffe and Bert Chalfant, losing to Chalfant by only nine votes, while Welch defeated Adair by 39 votes.
And both challenges hinged on allegations of crossover voting in Republican primaries by Democratic voters.
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In the Richards-Chalfant case, Austin McMullen, attorney for Richards contested 11 votes that were cast at the College Grove early voting location, but TNGOP Chair Scott Golden pointed out that only two of the 11 contested votes had been cast in the District 7 county commission primary.
After about an hour of wrangling, committee member Randy Ellis of Roane County called the question on the motion he first made during a Wednesday meeting to accept the results of the election. Ellis’s motion passed 27-13, with one abstention.
In the second case, rookie candidate Adair and her father, who was on the call, alleged Welch had been supported by Williamson Strong, a nonpartisan public education group, and its leader, a “known Democrat,” according to Adair.
In his defense, Welch noted his Republican bonafides and a long history of involvement with both the state and Williamson County Republican parties.
“I was the only bonafide candidate,” Welch said. “(Adair) has not voted in Republican primaries and had to get someone to vouch for her. Until she pulled papers to run, I’d never met her”
The committee voted to uphold Welch’s win by a 36-6 vote with one abstention.
The ensuing discussion about a desire for closed primaries—Tennessee has a partially open primary system that does not require party registration—continued a growing call from party activists for closed primaries.
“Close the freaking primaries,” said Maria Stewart of Sumner County, who said she spoke to Republican House Whip Johnny Garrett about the issue. “He said if we close the primaries, we’ll lose seats. We have a supermajority!”
The fracas is only the latest discord in the state Republican Party over bonafides and crossover voting. Two weeks ago, the group voted to uphold a challenge to the outcome of the Hamilton County GOP mayoral primary and the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on Friday to uphold the TNGOP’s removal of 5th Congressional District Robby Starbuck from the ballot.
About the Author: Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. She has served as political analyst for WZTV Fox 17 and provided communications consulting for political campaigns at all levels, from city council to presidential. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made. Follow McCall on Twitter HERE.