CROSSVILLE, Tenn. - A Crossville woman has been denied the opportunity to vote in the Republican primary after a poll watcher challenged her GOP credentials.
An election panel on Tuesday upheld the denial of Mickey Eldridge's eligibility to vote in the Republican contest because of her past support for Democrats, WBIR-TV reported.
"It was disgraceful and this is a sad day in our community," said Eldridge. "I want my vote to count, that's the main thing."
Eldridge said she was asked to produce her voting history and then took an oath of allegiance to the Republican Party.
Tennessee voters aren't registered by party and voters often participate in different primaries depending on developments in a given campaign. But poll watchers can challenge voters if they are "not a bona fide member of political party" they are seeking to vote in.
Cumberland County Mayor Brock Hill, who ran as a Republican in 2006, condemned the decision.
"We really couldn't believe anyone would do it because it's an infringement on civil rights," Hill said. "I'm really embarrassed for the Republican Party here."
Eldridge was stopped by a poll watcher supporting state Rep. Eric Swafford, R-Pikeville, on Monday.
"I don't really understand what the big controversy or big story is," Swafford said. "We, just like everybody else, think elections are sacred. We want open, honest, and fair elections for everybody."
State Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said in a statement to The Associated Press that while state law allows for what occurred in Crossville, he wants to "encourage all Democrats with good intentions" to vote in GOP primaries.
"Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat and at some point he had to cast his first Republican vote," he said. "We are confident there will be many converts to the Republican Party this year."
A spokesman for State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said he had no comment beyond noting that state law "allows for challenges of election results."
It's not the first time that Tennessee's lack of voter registration has raised questions.
A Republican activist this summer petitioned Devaney to consider stripping 8th Congressional District candidate Steve Fincher of his GOP credentials because he had voted in four Democratic primaries since 2002 and only once in a Republican one. Devaney declined.
State Democrats in 2008 vacated then-Sen. Rosalind Kurita's 19-vote primary win, partly on the basis that Republicans had been encouraged to cross over and vote for her. Her ouster was widely condemned among Republicans.
Former U.S. Rep. David Davis of Johnson City that same year mulled - but ultimately abandoned - a challenge of his Republican primary defeat to Phil Roe over what he called "huge numbers of Democrats" crossing over to vote for him.
The potential challenge of Tennessee's open primaries was discouraged by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, who said at the time that it would be "a major mistake." Ramsey is running for governor this year.