An analysis of voting records by the News4 I-Team revealed the sponsors of a bill to prevent people from voting in their opposing party’s primaries have both voted in their rival party’s primaries in the past.
Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, are co-sponsors of bills that would prevent members of one political party from voting in opposing political party’s primaries.
The bill would require Tennesseans to register to vote with a political party before voting in a primary.
The bill reads that if someone is caught voting in another party’s primary, that person could be charged with a Class D felony.
Holt said his interpretation of current law is that you can now be charged with the felony for voting in another party’s primary, but it is impossible to prove because there is not a political party registration in Tennessee.
The bill has been widely criticized for limiting Tennessean’s option to vote, especially if they are displeased with their own party’s candidates.
“This was bad politics and bad policy,” said Kent Syler, News4’s political analyst.
Holt testified in committee that the bill was needed to keep primaries fair from influence from other parties.
“We have seen that there have been a number of elections that may potentially have been influenced by members who are not bonified members of a particular party,” Holt said.
Holt said he is “deeply ashamed” of his vote in 2006.
“In 2006, I made the egregious mistake - one that I'm very much ashamed of - of voting in a democrat primary,” Holt said.
Holt denied that he voted in the Democratic primary to try and sway that party’s results, but only voted because there was no contested Republican primary that year.
Holt said he should have been prevented from voting in that election by poll workers, and his bill is further proof that Tennesseans need to be educated that, by current state law, that they are not supposed to vote in another party’s primary.
“Is this an example of a lawmaker trying to keep people from doing something that you yourself once did?” asked the News4 I-Team.
“No. I think the intention here is to provide evidence through my own experience and say guess what? This is something that people may be willing or unwillingly doing,” Holt said.
Hensley denied our request for an interview but said in a statement that he did vote in a Democratic primary in 2000 in order to vote against a Democratic candidate.
Hensley said he was not in the legislature at the time and was unaware it was against state law.
A Tennessee House panel has stripped a bill of a state GOP-backed push to allow only registered party members to vote in election primaries.
“There was a person I felt would be extremely detrimental to our district in a multi-candidate field in the Democrat primary. This is exactly what I am trying to combat with this bill. I was not aware that current law precludes partisans from voting in the opposite primary," Hensley said in the statement.
Holt’s bill failed in a House committee while Hensley’s bill is still being debated in the Senate.
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