Hamilton County Election Commission attorney Chris Clem said State Senate Republican candidate Greg Vital's public request for a recount isn't enough to get the process moving.
Todd Gardenhire has a 40-vote lead over Vital after 16,000 GOP primary ballots were cast in Senate District 10, which comprises parts of Bradley and Hamilton counties. The tiny margin led Vital to request a recount Friday.
But Clem said state law "appears to vest all jurisdiction for contested primaries with the state parties," so Vital cannot appeal directly to the local or state election commission. Instead, Vital must persuade the Tennessee Republican Party to request a recount, which he might have to pay for, Clem said.
"[The] state election office told me that both the Democrat and Republican state parties have required the contesting candidates to pay for such costs in advance," he said.
Clem said if the state GOP accepts Vital's request for a recount, all it has to do is find money to fund the recount in both counties. There is no approval process, Clem said.
"If the check clears, [the election commissions] don't have any right to say no," he said. "Hamilton County and Bradley County don't have any discretion."
Clem described a potential recount as "very expensive," costing "thousands of dollars" in Hamilton County alone. Vital has donated $125,000 to his state Senate campaign.
Vital, who won Bradley County but lost Hamilton County, cannot ask for only one county's ballots to be inspected and recounted. Clem said all ballots in District 10 would have to be rerun through a machine one by one.
There's also the question of how long the state GOP would have to decide whether to ask for a recount. The Bradley County Election Commission hasn't set a date to certify results, while the Hamilton County Election Commission certifies on Aug. 16. The Tennessee Republican Party could have five days from either county's certification to ask for a recount or it could use the state certification date as a five-day marker, Clem said.
A former state representative, Clem said history indicates Vital may not be successful in requesting a recount. Several other Tennessee primaries were close, he said.
"It is my understanding that the state parties rarely approve or accept a request by a candidate to contest a primary result," Clem said.
Three provisional ballots in Bradley County and two provisional ballots in Hamilton County haven't been added to the District 10 vote count yet, election officials said. Both commissions meet Monday to review the ballots to see if they qualify.
"The provisional ballots could be people who did not have picture IDs," Clem said, adding that others may have claimed to be registered but were not on election rolls. "Those people will have until Monday at 5 p.m. to return with picture ID in order for their ballots to be counted."