Lawsuit filed over new Tennessee law requiring polling places to warn against voting in the ‘wrong’ primary

Voters enter a polling place in Nashville on Nov. 8, 2022. / Tennessee Lookout Photo by John Partipilo
Voters enter a polling place in Nashville on Nov. 8, 2022. / Tennessee Lookout Photo by John Partipilo

The League of Women Voters of Tennessee filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a new law requiring every Tennessee polling place to display signs saying it is a crime to vote in a primary without being a bona fide party member.

The law passed earlier this year with only Republican votes in the state House and Senate. Members of the GOP caucus pushed for legislation after complaining that Democrats were crossing over to vote in Republican primaries during the 2022 elections.

(READ MORE: State Rep. Greg Martin says Tennessee, Hamilton County elections 'very secure')

Tennessee's strong Republican tilt in rural and suburban communities and Democrat-leanings in the urban areas means often the most competitive election races occur in the primary, not the general election.

The state has no law requiring party registration and has an open primary system where voters can choose the primary ballot they want on election day.

Republican lawmakers also proposed a bill last year requiring party registration before an election, creating a closed primary system like in 15 other states, but it did not pass.

(READ MORE: Hamilton is last county in Tennessee to ditch Dominion voting machines)

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a Republican, signed on as a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in Nashville's federal court.

"I was shocked to learn about this new law, which allows someone other than me to determine if I am a bona fide member of a political party without clear criteria as to what that term means," Ashe said in a statement released by the League of Women Voters of Tennessee.

"At times, I have been critical of the actions of some elected Republicans, and I now learn party officials -- without defining the conditions of party membership -- could not only challenge my ability to vote but also seek to have me criminally prosecuted for voting in the primary where I have voted all my adult life."


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