Proposed bills would make all Tennessee local elections partisan

Published 10:13 am Friday, January 27, 2023

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Two proposed Tennessee bills would add to the partisan nature of all of the state’s elections, including local and judge races.

One of the bills would require all races, including local and state elections, to be partisan with candidates declaring a political party. Another would require all voters to declare a party and only vote in that party’s primary elections.

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Companion bills SB 405 and HB 262 would require all elections to be partisan and allow political parties to nominate candidates in local elections. That would be a change for local city councils, like the Metro Nashville council, where members are not elected on a partisan basis.

The bills would also require judges to declare a party more than 30 days before an election or a retention vote for those on the supreme court, court of appeals, and court of criminal appeals.

The bill has been assigned to the House Elections & Campaign Finance Subcommittee.

“If this passes and they shrink the Metro Council, the 2024 Council elections would be partisan,” said Metro Nashville Council Member Bob Mendes. “Goodness knows I don’t understand those folks, but fyi to them: you can’t draw 15 to 20 districts in Nashville where any of them are majority Republican.”

In addition, SB 452 and HB 405 would require voters to declare a political party for statewide elections and only vote in primary elections for that party. If a party affiliation is not chosen, that person would not be eligible to vote in a party primary. Current voters must make that declaration before the August 2024 primary.

“Another bill would make the voters partisan, too (currently any TN voter can choose an R or D ballot for a primary election),” Metro Nashville Council Member Sean Parker wrote. “My crank opinion: there should be no public funding for closed, partisan primaries.”

The party selection occurs the first time a voter votes in a primary and any change in party affiliation must be declared 30 days prior to an election.

The bills aren’t the only bills expected to have a large potential impact on local elections in the future. House Bill 48 and SB 87 would reduce the size of local municipal governments to 20 voting members. Nashville currently has 40.

“Local government bodies need to be a size that allows them to function efficiently and effectively without compromising their duty to represent the people,” said Senate sponsor Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

The bills have been assigned to the House Cities & Counties Subcommittee and Senate State & Local Government Committee.