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Staff Photo By Olivia Ross / Campaign signs line the road leading to the Hamilton County Election Commission in April for the start of early voting for the May 3 Hamilton County primary election.

The Tennessee Republican Party's State Executive Committee, given the rules in place, returned the only decision it could in a vote Friday on a challenge to the results in Hamilton County's recent mayoral primary by second-place finisher Sabrena Smedley.

We supported Smedley in the race and feel she would have been the best Republican nominee, but her petition was asking the committee — because of an "organized" effort by Democrats to elect eventual winner Weston Wamp with crossover votes — to declare her the winner or hold a caucus among Republicans to determine the winner.

Wamp won the primary by 318 votes, and subsequent analyses have concluded at least five times that many legitimate crossover votes were tallied, but it is impossible to tell for whom each vote was made.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your candidate, primaries in Tennessee are what the National Conference of State Legislatures calls "partially open," which means crossover votes are allowed and voters don't register with parties, but voters who declare their ballot choice are expected to be bona fide members of that particular party.

Yet, that status is almost never challenged, and Republicans voted for years — and into the 21st century — in Democratic primaries when that party was the dominant party in the state in order to have a say in various races.

The vote against Smedley's petition and for the already certified results was 35-10, with the four local representatives splitting their votes.

Smedley, the current Hamilton County Commission chair, repeated during the committee's public Zoom meeting that such crossover voting would continue until it helps the state turn "blue" (become dominated by Democrats).

"You are the guardians of the heart and soul of our party," she said. "I am asking you to close the barn gate so every true Republican can trust their primary vote truly does count."

We have been and are still against closed primaries (registering party members, deterring crossover votes and shutting out independents from primaries), but believe the activity in the mayor's race should prompt more discussion among executive committee members about potential remedies.

We also think — and hope — Smedley is wrong about such crossover voting turning the state "blue." The GOP is in such a strong position in the state at the moment that we don't believe even an "organized" effort by Democrats to elect one Republican over another is about to be the death knell for the party. But it doesn't hurt for the party's executive committee to be vigilant.

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