Why Are Open Primaries In Tennessee A Big Deal?

Image Credit: Public Domain

By Donald Beehler [contributor to The Tennessee Conservative] –

It seems self-evident that voters should, in good faith, cast their primary ballot for the candidate who best represents their convictions. It also is reasonable to expect a candidate’s values align with the party under which they run. Unfortunately, in Tennessee, that is not always the case due to our state’s open primaries.

On March 7th, the Tennessee legislature has another chance to help restore integrity to the primary voting process by closing election primaries, per HB 1045. (A previous bill designed to close them failed in committee.)

Why are open primaries such as big deal?

In the May 3, 2022, Williamson County Republican primary, 14.8% of the voters were Democrat crossover voters. (A crossover voter, for the purpose of this analysis, is defined for that May 2022 election as someone who had voted in the previous presidential primary held in March 2020 as a Democrat, but then voted as a Republican in the May 2022 primary.)

According to the voter file published immediately after the May 2022 primary, there were 18,232 voters who voted in the May 2022 Republican primary. Of those 18,232 Republican voters, 2,700 had voted as Democrats in the previous presidential primary of March 2020. This means that 14.8% of the total Republican vote was from crossover Democrats as attested by their vote in the preceding presidential primary.

Clearly, a nearly 15% swing in votes from members of the opposing party has a huge affect on primaries and skews the results, especially in close elections.

In Williamson County, where I live, we even have Democrat candidates voting in GOP primaries, notably Williamson County Commission District 4 candidate Anne McGraw and Democratic state house candidate Bill Peach. These candidates apparently saw voting in Republican primaries as an opportunity to further their liberal agendas by influencing which GOP candidate is elected.  

In a March 8, 2018, article in The Tennessean, Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden described such actions as “despicable,” noting that they work to dismantle the sanctity of the voting process.

TCA 2-7-115(b) prohibits voting in a party’s primary when one is not a bona fide member of the party and does not intend to affiliate with them in the future. In other words, a Democrat can’t become a Republican for a day and vote in a GOP primary with the sole intent of influencing the outcome.

Nevertheless, Mr. Peach continues to promote the practice to his fellow Democrats, writing in a Feb. 23 Facebook post, “We are fortunate that we have been able to defeat most of the radical opponents of education and human rights who have chosen to run in the Republican Primary.” 

For the ethically challenged, voting for a candidate in another party is not a problem— although it violates the law—because the ends justify the means.

The reality is that such deceptive practices are the only chance Democrats have in Williamson County of swaying primaries to ensure a RINO is elected as the GOP candidate. Then, they can vote for the Democrat nominee in the general election knowing they have a back-up plan. Either way, such manipulation of the system enables liberals to continue promoting agendas that assault traditional values, weaken the family structure and generate division in our community. 

Williamson County School board member Eric Welch is the embodiment of the consequences that can result from open primaries. Mr. Welch has the distinction of having been endorsed by both the Democrat and Republican parties in Williamson County. In 2022, he was the GOP candidate for his district, having defeated a conservative in the primary, likely with some helpful votes from Democrats. 

(How on earth Mr. Welch, whose voting record and public statements mirror those of the left, was able to run as the GOP candidate is a story for another time.)

He also has been repeatedly endorsed by liberals, including an organization called Williamson Strong (of which Anne McGraw is now part of its leadership). Williamson Strong has consistently demonstrated contempt for the values of the GOP and has been especially vicious in its attacks against conservatives. 

Its homepage opens with this heading: “Williamson County, Tennessee has been a hotbed for political takeovers of our public school system by far-right political extremists since 2014. We’ve been fighting back as part of a national battle for our schools.” 

Interesting that this left-wing organization, which consistently promotes liberal polices that are out of sync with the majority in our community, believed Mr. Welch was the best candidate in his district. 

Nor has he disappointed them in his voting record, woke ideology and contempt for conservatives. Mr. Welch has consistently supported programs in our schools that run counter to traditional values and which create negative stereotypes rather than encourage students to view people as individuals made in God’s image.

But this is what happens when we allow members of the opposing party to manipulate the system and help choose our candidates: We end up with someone like Mr. Welch who is unrecognizable as a Republican but fits in nicely with the Democrats. 

Let’s hope our legislators do the right thing and pass HB 1045. Really, it boils down to requiring voters to be honest when casting a primary ballot. 

For more information about Williamson Strong’s “national battle for our schools” and Mr. Welch’s ties to the organization, check out this three-part series.

About the Author:

Don Beehler is a retired public relations consultant in Franklin, Tennessee.

6 thoughts on “Why Are Open Primaries In Tennessee A Big Deal?

  • March 6, 2023 at 4:19 pm

    The Democrats had better not try this kind of nonsense where I live (Meigs County).

  • March 6, 2023 at 5:16 pm

    I don’t worry about Dems any longer. They are upfront with their aims to destroy America. It’s Tennessee’s Establishment GOP that is most worrisome. They are as sleazy as it gets telling you to your face they are for Conservative values, but then behind your back, endorsing everything the Left wants.

    Scott Golden talks out both sides of his mouth. We have an abundance of evidence that this State’s GOP will sabotage any “GOP” candidates that are America First. Gary Humble and Mark Pulliam are just two examples.

    There are many battles to fight in this war for fair elections, but it must begin with CLOSED primaries!

  • March 6, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    DON’T GET ANGRY CONSERVATIVES. Getting angry is bad for your health and a waste of energy. Rather the question to ask yourself is “WHAT AM I GONNA DO ABOUT IT.”

    What I’m going to do is not forget the names of the Open Primary Six; John Crawford (Kingsport), Esther Haynes (East Ridge); William Slater (Gallatin), Dale Carr (Sevierville), Dave Wright (Corryton) and John Holsclaw (Elizabethton). These are the individuals who failed to vote in favor of closing the primary in committee which led to its defeat. We must financially support the primary opponents of the Open Primary Six in the 2024 Republican primary – that’s what we should do about it.

  • March 6, 2023 at 6:21 pm

    It will destroy the Republican brand if we can’t be sure a “Republican” is either a conservative or a moderate. Until now, no one ever thought a “Republican” on the ballot might be a Leftist who wants CRT, DEI, porn in schools, mask mandates and all the things conservatives oppose. In Williamson County you can’t trust that a “Republican” isn’t a Leftist.

    There’s something weird when > “Mr. Welch has the distinction of having been endorsed by both the Democrat and Republican parties in Williamson County.” I remember that the Dems endorsed him even though a Dem candidate was running against him. Ever heard of that before?

    Why was a well known liberal allowed to run as a Republican? If this is allowed it will be easy for dozens of liberals to run as Republicans – many have voted in the Republican Primaries for years because they are either voting for Libs running as Republicans or because they want the candidate to win the Primary who they think the Dem has the best chance to beat. They are unethical but the GOP shouldn’t let them run as Republicans. Be smarter!!!

    • March 6, 2023 at 6:45 pm

      “Be smarter!!!” Come to think of it, isn’t the Republican Party known as “the stupid party”?

      • March 8, 2023 at 1:56 pm

        Amen. Time to start a third party “America First”. Sick and tried of all these rinos. Closed primaries are a must. Need to really vet candidates you are thinking of voting for. Do your research. Having a R beside their name means absolutely nothing here in Tennessee anymore. This state is getting bluer everyday.
        In God we trust not government or man.
        Have a blessed day.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *