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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bill for Party Registration in Tennessee

UPDATE - 2/17/09 - I've just learned that current Tennessee law requires the parties to hold primaries for governor, the legislature, and Congress. But for other partisan offices, a party may use a primary or any other method of nomination.

Tennessee, like Mississippi, requires political parties to open their primaries to any registered voter. There has recently been some controversy regarding Tennessee's primaries, and an east Tennessee blogger has an informative post on the Volunteer State's primary system and a legislative bill for party registration:

"Tennessee House Republican Whip Debra Maggart has introduced a bill that would close our partisan primaries in Tennessee to those people who identify themselves in their voter registration as a member of the Republican or Democratic party. ..."

"... As voluntary associations, our political parties have every right to determine how they shall nominate candidates for public office, and who participates in that nominating process. If parties determine that a primary is the best way to choose candidates, then a party has the right to keep its primary a 'members only' affair so that Republicans nominate Republicans, and Democrats choose the nominees of their party. ..."

Here's my commentary on the post:

States have the authority to tell political parties which nomination method(s) to use. Almost all states require parties to nominate by primary, and all of those states pay the costs. In 1995, the 8th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that, when a state mandates that parties hold primaries, the state must cover the expense of those primaries (Republican Party v. Faulkner County [Arkansas]).

In 1986, the U. S. Supreme Court gave parties the right to invite independents to vote in their primaries (Tashjian v. Connecticut Republican Party). Hence the part of the Tennessee bill forbidding independents from voting in primaries is unconstitutional.

In 2005, in a suit brought by the Oklahoma Libertarian Party, the Supreme Court said that a state MAY prohibit parties from inviting members of opposing parties to vote in their primaries. Clingman v. Beaver (The majority opinion was written by Justice Clarence Thomas, and I strongly disagree with his conclusion. He was also highly critical of the Tashjian decision and came close to overturning it.)

I'll be surprised if the Tennessee bill for party registration is enacted. 29 states and the District of Columbia now register voters by party. In the last 20 years, though, only Rhode Island and Utah have adopted party registration.

There's a federal lawsuit pending against Idaho's state-mandated open primary. The U. S. District Court in Boise will hear oral argument in the case on February 18 (Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa, 08-cv-165).

In December 2007, in a suit brought by a local unit of the Virginia Republican Party, the 4th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled that, when a party is forced to nominate by primary, the party decides who votes in that primary (Miller v. Cunningham).

In June 2007, a U. S. District Court held that Mississippi's state-mandated open primary is unconstitutional. However, in May 2008, the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans dismissed the suit on procedural grounds (Mississippi Democratic Party v. Barbour).


Blogger Michael Morrison said...

Although it is a fact that political parties are private organizations, it is one ignored both by the unlearned (and/or unthinking) among us and by politicians and governments.
Political parties, thus, are now quasi-official parts of governments, and even receive money from governments, money stolen from the working and producing people in the form of taxes.
For example, governments hand over big wads of cash to the two old parties for their national conventions, and governments pay for primaries even though parties really ought to have conventions to pick their candidates.
Conceivably registering by party will allow new parties to receive "official" recognition and conceivably that official recognition will encourage otherwise uninformed voters to start casting ballots for those new parties.
Unfortunately, we are still talking about Tennessee, which has the second-lowest voter turnout in the nation.

Tue Feb 17, 06:01:00 PM CST  

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