State warns voters at polls about voting across party lines in primary

THE CENTER SQUARE

Tennessee polling places will now be required to post signs on partisan primary election days warning voters to only vote in a primary for a party that they are a bona fide member.

Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill to add the notice to polling places this week.

“It is a violation of Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 2-7-115(b), and punishable as a crime under Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 2-19-102 or Section 2-19-107, if a person votes in a political party’s primary without being a bona fide member of or affiliated with that political party, or to declare allegiance to that party without the intent to affiliate with that party,” the signs will read.

Attorney Daniel Horwitz, however, has explained in his blog he believes that someone could claim to be a bona fide member of both the Republican and Democratic parties at the same time in Tennessee, where voters are not required to register for a party.

“For one thing, public officials have absolutely no authority to determine party membership—only parties do,” Horwitz wrote. “For another, affiliating with one political party does not categorically preclude a voter from affiliating with another, since political parties are not necessarily incompatible with one another. All contrary conclusions reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the First Amendment as it applies to political parties’ freedom of association.”

Horwitz explained a person’s right to vote would have to be challenged at the polling place by another person who is present. Then election judges would have to administer an oath and ask questions of the voter on the spot and only if the judges unanimously agree the voter cannot vote would the challenge be valid.