PHOTO: Rebecca Burke, Tennessee Republican state party committeewoman, sits to the right of Bill Peach, a Democratic candidate seeking the District 65 state house seat, at a hastily called election commission meeting on Wednesday, April 25, 2018.//Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
The five members of the county election commission gathered at the county administrative building on Wednesday afternoon for a meeting to discuss the legality of two Williamson County Democratic candidates who voted in the Republican county primary.
Bill Peach, who is running for the District 63 state seat against longtime incumbent Rep. Glen Casada, and Anne McGraw, who is running for District 4 county commissioner, voted in the Republican primary.
Administrator of Elections Chad Gray said the commission decided to hold a meeting after inquiries on the issue from Williamson County Republicans, including party chair Debbie Deaver.
According to state law, a registered voter may cast a ballot if:
1) “The voter is a bona fide member of and affiliated with the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote, or,
2) At the time the voter seeks to vote, the voter declares allegiance to the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote and states that the voter intends to affiliate with that party.”
Robert Brown, the chairman of the commission, said legal precedent demonstrated that the party needs to decide what to do in such a situation. In a similar situation in the 2008 Democratic primary in Clarksville, the election was voided.
Peach, a well-known Democrat, said he has voted in Republican primaries since the county primary’s inception in 1982.
“I also violated this in 2014,” Peach said, when he ran for the District 65 state house seat against Jeremy Durham. “I’d like to plead guilty to that.”
As a former Franklin Special School District board member with deep ties to the community, Peach said he felt it was his duty to vote in the 2018 primary.
“I have an obligation to help elect the best candidates,” he said, confirming that he voted in all Republican categories, except county commission.
Were Peach to vote Democrat in this county primary, he would have seen a blank ballot.
At the Williamson County Election Commission, one poll worker said Monday he had observed several confused voters who changed their registration after discovering they had few choices in the Democratic primary.
If a voter chooses to affiliate with the Democratic party, they are unable to vote in the county mayoral, trustee, clerk, and register of deeds races, among others, depending on which district they live in.
But for Peach and McGraw to run as Democrats, albeit in two separate elections, and vote in the Republican county primary, “I don’t have the ability to reconcile those two things,” Brown said. “I don’t see how either one of those situations qualify under the law of being able to vote.”
Brown questioned whether such a vote was fraudulent.
“These are qualified candidates,” said Brown. “These are voters that come in, they work for a party, they know they’re working for a party, and then going in and doing something in the polling precinct which is not what they have declared.”
Holly McCall, the chair of the Williamson County Democrats, questioned the secretive nature of the meeting, which was not made public through media notice in advance.
“I’m fairly upset that these candidates voted in the Republican primary,” she said, but also said the county has an open primary. Disallowing a candidate from voting because of party allegiance, she said, “this is borderline voter disenfranchisement.”
Brown said the county’s primary is not classified as open nor closed.
“I really don’t want anyone to commit a felony unknowingly,” he admitted.
“Republican primaries are for Republicans, period,” insisted Rebecca Burke, the state’s executive committeewoman for the Republican party. “It might come to the point where we insist that they sign a list of allegiance.”
“I don’t see how you could do that,” Brown said, in terms of flagging those who have past Democratic voting records. “That seems out of bounds to me.”
“It would be hard to manage, I agree,” said Burke, who is running for the District 61 state seat.
“I don’t really feel like we have open primaries, I feel like we have an honor system,” Deaver said. “I don’t think it’s fair to our Republican candidates to have people show up and vote against them instead of showing up to vote for them.”
Since the votes had taken place, Brown sought the board’s guidance on what steps to take.
At the end of the meeting, the election commission voted to post TCA 2-7-115 B, the part of state code that explains the party affiliation requirement, at polling locations for the May 1 general primary.
The commission also voted 3-2 to turn the cases over to the district attorney.
“My concern is not about me,” Peach said. “It’s about all the voters that are being disenfranchised.