Rivals challenge Weston Wamp's mayoral win in Hamilton County GOP primary

NASHVILLE - Hamilton County mayoral candidates Sabrena Smedley and Matt Hullander on Wednesday formally contested fellow Republican Weston Wamp's victory in the May 3 primary election, citing crossover voting by Democrats and asking the Tennessee Republican Party either to declare Smedley the victor or set aside the results of the contest and set a new election.

The filing asks Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden to convene the GOP's 66-member State Executive Committee in its role as State Primary Board to hear and decide the matter.

Wamp won the contest with 14,428 votes, a 318-vote margin over Smedley, who received 14,110 votes, and Hullander, who received 12,171 votes. All three GOP candidates collectively received 40,709 votes.

"After the polls closed on May 3, 2022, and as the election results started coming in, it became very clear to bona fide Republican voters that something was awry," the complaint states. "The question on bona fide voters' minds was what on Earth was happening?"

The complaint says Wamp's win was the result of rampant crossover voting by Democrats.

(READ MORE: Education, schools dominate first Hamilton County mayor debate)

The complaint alleges that Clergy for Justice, which it describes as a supporter of movements such as Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police, was among other Democratic-aligned groups or figures reaching out to their constituents "to pull a Republican ballot and vote for Weston Wamp," the complaint says, referencing a news article.

The complaint also alleges students from Brainerd, Tyner and Howard schools were also bused off campus by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which the document asserts supports abortion and the appointment of liberal judges.

Amy Rice Davis, president of the Chattanooga Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority issued a statement in response to the complaint.

"For accuracy," the statement said, "the Chattanooga Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. supports a woman's fundamental right to make decisions related to her reproductive health and called for the confirmation of now Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson for her extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, integrity, and commitment to upholding the United States Constitution."

Wamp criticized the effort to overturn the election results.

"This is a sad, selfish attempt by Sabrena Smedley to disenfranchise Republican voters across Hamilton County and undermine confidence in our local election," Wamp said in a statement. "Our campaign won 54 of 90 precincts in the Republican primary compared to Smedley's 28 and Matt Hullander's 10. The election results were certified by the Republican-led Hamilton County Election Commission on Friday.

"The hypocrisy of Ms. Smedley is stunning," Wamp said. "Her own campaign team openly solicited Democratic votes on social media, and her campaign proudly promoted the endorsement of the liberal teacher's union on television ads and mailers in an effort to attract Democratic voters."

Tom Ingram, a veteran political consultant who was working in Smedley's campaign, told the Times Free Press Wednesday evening in a phone interview that the election night results were a surprise and a disappointment.

(READ MORE: Hamilton County Republican mayoral candidates raise $1.23 million for open seat)

"But that really isn't the issue here," Ingram said. "There have been a number of questions raised about the propriety of the process and Sabrena, joined by Matt Hullander, has asked the party to review the process and the outcome and determine if impropriety rose to a level that they want to consider any sort of remedies."

Golden said in a Times Free Press interview Wednesday evening that under Tennessee law, a candidate may contest a party primary election in which he or she was a candidate within five business days after certification of results by the county election commission. That's done by filing a written notice with the state political party's primary board, which is comprised of the GOP's 66-member State Executive Committee.

"This is not an unusual occurrence," he said.

Golden cited a 2020 case in which there was a challenge to Republican Eddie Mannis of Knoxville over his victory in House District 18. The challenge came from the losing candidate, Gina Oster, who cited crossover voting by Democrats. Mannis had won the election by 99 votes.

The Tennessee Republican Party's executive committee, acting as the primary board, voted 43-18 against a motion to remove Mannis as the Republican nominee in state House District 18.

The latest complaint says it "became very clear" that there was no mechanism in place to ensure voters were bona fide Republicans, by either the Hamilton County Election Commission or the local Republican Party.

In Tennessee, voters are not able to register to vote in a particular political party, limiting the ability to have registered party members vote in that party's primary. People can choose either a Republican or Democratic ballot when they vote in primary elections, an "open primary" system.

On Friday, Hamilton County Election Commission Assistant Administrator of Elections Nate Foster told the Times Free Press, "Citizens' concerns about party crossover voting in the election do not attest to our voting machines' accuracy or whether the votes were accurately counted. Citizens should talk with their local party authorities and the state legislature if they wish to change the rules for voter participation in a primary election."

The Smedley and Hullander complaint suggests a voter's history of participation in primaries - on file at the election commission - should have been used to authenticate their party loyalty.

"There was absolutely no gatekeeping," the complaint states. "The voting history is information which only the Hamilton County Election Commission possesses" and the record was not available at poll sites in digital format, even though it could have been, the complaint argues.

Yet another complaint was there were no "allegiance forms" available at polls to be filled out by a non-bona fide and/or challenged voter. The state GOP has such a form that says any bona fide Republican whose loyalty to the GOP is "questioned" may be challenged by another bona fide Republican present. The challenged voter may cast a ballot upon his or her public and written affirmation to the GOP.

The complaint says the election commission's position is that if a voter asks for a Republican ballot, they are "de facto" swearing allegiance to the Republican Party when there are no postings to this effect nor warning signs for voters that to fraudulently declare their party is a Class E felony.

The complaint said the election process "allowed the Democratic left to make a mockery of this Republican primary election process through adulteration of the legitimate votes placed by bona fide Republicans."

(READ MORE: Hamilton County election results certified, as some express ballot integrity concerns)

photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Hamilton County Mayoral candidate Matt Hullander shared his vision for the county, from the steps of the courthouse on Dec. 1, 2021.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

Upcoming Events