NASHVILLE —Tennessee Republican Party leaders on Wednesday night rejected Hamilton County school board candidate Cindy Fain's effort to void rival Jon Baker's May 3 GOP primary victory for the District 6 seat.
Republican State Executive Committee members, meeting as the GOP's state primary board, voted 32-7 to confirm Baker as the party nominee.
Fain alleged that an orchestrated effort by Democrats to cross over and cast ballots in the GOP primary led to her 48-vote loss to Baker, who received 1,142 votes to her 1,094 votes.
The complaint was similar to that made last month by Sabrena Smedley in her GOP county mayoral primary loss to Weston Wamp, who won the three-person contest by 318 votes. State Executive Committee members also rejected Smedley's challenge to Wamp.
Although there is publicly available data on which party primaries a person has voted in, the actual votes cast are secret.
"My feeling was that there was no evidence that the crossover votes of the Democrats voted for me," Baker told the Times Free Press in a Thursday morning phone interview. "My position at the meeting was, they all very well could have voted for the gal who filed the notice of the contest."
In her argument before executive committee members, Fain said she obtained voter history data after the election.
"In that data, you could find out who was a bona fide Democrat," she said.
Voters in Tennessee do not register to vote in a particular political party and can request ballots from either party when casting a ballot in a primary election.
According to Fain, she analyzed public voter data and determined there were 329 people who voted in the Republican primary for her seat who she deemed to be Democrats based on their past primary participation. District 6 includes North Chattanooga, Red Bank, Stuart Heights and Lupton City.
"I looked it up, if I knew any of them," Fain said. "And the ones that were on there were the mayor of Red Bank, the vice mayor of Red Bank. And they are good friends with the Democratic opponent."
Fain claimed Red Bank Mayor Hollie Berry and Vice Mayor Stefanie Dalton had made posts on their social media accounts explaining to the public how to pull a Republican ballot.
Dalton has said her social media post was an attempt to educate voters, not sway the election.
The Democratic nominee is Ben Connor, who is advancing to the Aug. 4 general election along with Baker.
Fain added Berry and Dalton "were the ones who spoke out and talked about pulling a Republican ballot to vote against the candidates that are strong. I am the stronger candidate, they knew it because I have a child that goes to a Hamilton County school."
Baker assured executive committee members that he is a Republican.
"Put it this way," Baker told the GOP leaders during their Zoom meeting. "I can't see me picking a Democrat."
He said he has been a delegate to GOP conventions and campaigned for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 and also worked as a poll worker two years ago.
During her presentation, Fain cited Tennessee law, which states a registered voter is entitled to vote in a primary election for offices at polling stations where they are registered if "the voter is a bona fide member of and affiliated with the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote."
Additional language in the section states, "At the time the voter seeks to vote, the voter declares allegiance to the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote and states that the voter intends to affiliate with that party."
The language putting the ballot choice in the hands of voters has for decades allowed crossover voting.
Republicans are so dominant in Tennessee politics that the GOP primaries are often the decisive ones — their winners more commonly go on to win in the general election. The situation attracts crossover voters, who want their vote to count.
Republican executive committee members have raised concerns about the situation for years — as did Democrats when they were the dominant party in Tennessee.
GOP state executive committee members confronted the issue last month when considering Smedley's complaints in the GOP mayoral contest.
"This is a problem the legislature needs to address," Lee Mills, an executive committee member, told fellow committee members.
Committee member Randy Ellis warned colleagues "it's a dangerous precedent for us to set election results aside."
"The bottom line was there wasn't any evidence to justify not honoring the election results," committee member Ken Meyer of East Ridge, a former state representative, said by phone Thursday. "And that is not to say there are not problems within the system. There clearly are. But those are problems that need to be dealt with at a legislative level, not at a political level.
"We still have to honor the rules that we are playing by. Whether we like them or not, we have to honor those rules and respect those rules."
Meyer voted to accept the results.
"I'm not running against anybody, I'm running for the school board," Baker said when asked about his general election match-up with Connor. "That's my only focus is I'm running for the school board, and that means the kids."
"I can tell you straight up," Baker added. "My campaign manager is Jesus Christ, OK? He's the one I listen to, and he's the one that guides me."
Baker noted that some Republican State Executive Committee members made clear they were not happy voting in his favor but did so anyway.
"That to me was a God moment, because those people voted for what was right rather than what they wanted," Baker said. "That just blew me away."