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Staff File Photo By Matt Hamilton / Hamilton County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley announces her intention to run for Hamilton County mayor in December 2021.

Even if all that recent Hamilton County mayoral candidate Sabrena Smedley alleges is true about crossover voting in the May 3 primary election, she faces an uphill climb in convincing the Tennessee Republican Party's State Executive Committee to overturn the results of the election.

Smedley, who finished second in the race by 318 votes out of 40,709 cast, and third-place finisher Matt Hullander officially contested the race on Wednesday that was won by entrepreneur Weston Wamp.

The petition asks the party to convene its executive committee, hear what has been alleged, and either declare Smedley the victor or set aside the results and conduct a new election.

It alleges several Democrat-aligned groups reached out to constituents and suggested a vote for Wamp as the best alternative among the three Republicans and that students from local inner-city high schools were bused off campus by left-leaning groups to vote.

The problem for Smedley is that Tennessee has open primaries, which means voters are not registered by party and are allowed to vote in whichever primary they choose.

The petition suggests that no digital voting history information on individual voters was available at poll sites if poll workers found it necessary to check their voting records. It also says no "allegiance forms" were available at poll sites if specific voters were challenged on their party bona fides.

The position of the Hamilton County Election Commission, according to the petition, is that if a voter asks for a Republican (or Democratic) ballot, they are "de facto" swearing allegiance to that party, but they are not warned at poll sites that fraudulently so swearing is a Class E felony.

The problem for Smedley also is that for most of the 20th century Democrats dominated the ballot in Tennessee, and the only choice for Republicans was to vote for "the lesser of evils" among Democrats. For most of the 21st century, especially in Hamilton County elections, it's been the other way around in many races. If Democrats want a choice in who governs, they must choose among "the lesser of evils" among Republicans.

Challenging voters at voting sites has been rarely, if ever, done in recent years.

For Smedley to overturn the election, she must convince a majority of members of the GOP executive committee. Party bylaws state: "Any resolution to the contest, including dismissal of the contest or overturning the election, must pass with a majority vote of the State Primary Board present and voting. Proxies shall not be permitted. All decisions shall be final with no option for appeal available. Certification of the primary election and the Republican nominee shall be done immediately following the meeting of the State Primary Board."

The decision of the board — of which former state Reps. Ken Meyer and Bobby Wood are among local members — is likely to come within seven days.

The history of such challenges is limited.

State Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden told this newspaper's Andy Sher of a 2020 case in which a Knoxville Republican was challenged in a state House race he won by 99 votes. His opponent cited Democratic crossover votes in her loss. The executive committee voted 43-18 against her challenge.

Golden told this page in an email Thursday in his 24 years of being associated with the state GOP, the State Executive Committee had not overturned a primary. He said he could not vouch for the years before 1998.

Among Democrats, however, state Sen. Rosalind Kurita won a 2008 primary by 19 votes, including those from Republicans, her opponent alleged. The Democratic Party Executive Committee — sore about her 2007 vote to help install a GOP Senate speaker — voted to strip her of the nomination. Her opponent ultimately was made the nominee and — despite a write-in campaign by Kurita — won the race.

We have repeatedly voiced our distaste for closed primaries, which would allow only registered members of parties to vote in their specific primary, and we haven't changed our mind. But that would be a remedy for some of the complaints in Smedley's petition.

So would primary runoff elections, where primary winners must win a majority of the votes. They are still used in 10 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. But that would most likely a change in the Tennessee Constitution, Golden surmised.

But neither of those remedies were in play in this election.

Smedley's petition is a 23-page document, with another 30 pages of exhibits, alleging at least 1,698 crossover votes from bona fide Democrats helped elect Wamp. It contains various statements, social media posts and background materials supporting and acknowledging the fact Democrats were encouraged by many in their party to vote for Wamp, who told the Times Free Press earlier this year he was "the most conservative candidate in the race."

We believe it will be a difficult to dissuade the Republican State Executive Committee that a certified election in which no laws were broken by Democrats voting in a Republican primary should be overturned. Maybe we're missing something — and since we endorsed Smedley, we wish she had won — but this appears to be a Hail Mary pass. And they rarely succeed.

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