Loyalty oath not needed in Tennessee primary

Loyalty oath not needed in Tennessee primary

March 11th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

A truly nutty bill is scheduled to be considered today in committees of the Tennessee General Assembly.

It would have voters declare in partisan primaries that the party they are voting for "most closely represents [their] values and beliefs."

Um, isn't that the point of a partisan primary?

However, Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, who is the sponsor of the House bill (and who, incidentally, is challenging U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in August's GOP primary), says the measure is intended to discourage a crossover vote that has the intent to maliciously malign the election of either primary party.

But he admits it wouldn't "conclusively" prevent crossover voting, because voters could still sign the loyalty oath and then cast their ballots as they choose.

So what's the point?

The chairmen of the state Democrat and Republican parties want nothing to do with it.

"Anything that makes it harder for Tennesseans to exercise their constitutional right to vote is wrong-headed, unpatriotic and antithetical to Tennessean and American values," said Democrat Roy Herron.

"A big reason why the Republican Party has been successful in Tennessee is because we have an open primary," said Chris Devaney for the GOP. "Because we're allowing more people to be part of our process, we're not closing it off to just a certain few."

Perhaps, Carr is thinking of his own race against Alexander, though he has said he is not. But imagine the scenario:

Democrats, not sensing a winning senatorial candidate on their side in 2014, go to the voting booth ready to vote in the August GOP primary. If they have to choose, they think to themselves, they will hold their noses and vote for what they perceive as the moderate Alexander over the more conservative Carr.

But wait. There, in front of God and everybody, with their yellow dog back in their hybrid sedan -- the one with the bumper stickers "Pro-Choice," "Is That True? Or Did You Hear It on Fox News?" and "In .Gov We Trust" plastered on the back window -- they have to swear the Republican party represents their values and beliefs.

So, being Democrats, they immediately back down and choose among Terry Adams, Larry Crim, Gary Gene Davis and Jacob Maurer in the Democrat primary, right? And Carr, having convinced enough people that Alexander is to the left of President Obama, wins the primary, right?

Of course not. Being Democrat voters, they sign the loyalty oath, cross over and vote for Alexander.

And, in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for category, if Democrats were to adhere to such a loyalty oath, Carr might miss his best opportunity to win.

Let's say Democrats believe one of their relatively unknown senatorial candidates -- Larry Crim because he also ran against Sen. Bob Corker in 2012 -- has the most minute chance of winning the general election. So, they cross over and vote for Carr, believing he would be easier to beat than Alexander. And a victorious Carr, in a red state such as Tennessee, would win the general election easily.

For the record, Sen. Alexander is also against this idea, as is Gov. Bill Haslam.

Carr's bill also could have a negative effect on independent voters, who were said to be 42 percent of Americans in a Gallup poll released shortly after the first of the year and up to 38 percent of Tennessee voters in recent GOP party polling. If these voters, who increasingly don't feel at home in either major party, suddenly have to settle for one or the other again, they may opt out.

That's not what anybody in either party should want.

Beyond all that, several studies published in the American Political Quarterly have concluded that crossover voting rarely changes the outcome of a primary election. Even at best, other studies argue it may have an indirect impact by influencing factors such as a candidate's momentum and fundraising capacity.

Meanwhile, loyalty oaths went out once with the end of Reconstruction in the South and again in the Red Scare era of Sen. Joe McCarthy. Let's don't invite them back.

Here's hoping Tennessee legislators in both House and Senate committees allow this silly bill to die.