PHOTO: Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) speaks with reporters at the Williamson County Election Commission on Monday, May 14, 2018. / Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
After delaying the May 1 primary result certification one week to record voter data, the Williamson County Election Commission certified the ballots at a meeting on Monday.
Administrator of Elections Chad Gray said 14,849 residents, or approximately 10.1 percent of registered voters had cast a ballot in the election.
In an email to media following the meeting, Gray said 923 voters “crossed over” to vote in the Republican party primary, based on numbers from the Democratic primary in March of 2016.
Retiring Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) joined the election commission meeting, saying he wanted to hear the conversation because he knew some people had “personal agendas” in the race.
Sargent said he did not believe the county primary should be a closed election.
“For the simple reason: I’m going to eliminate one-third of the votes, I’ll take Democrats and Independents,” he said. “That closes out those people from voting in the sheriff’s race, the county mayor’s race.”
Noting the typically low voter turnout, around 10 percent, Sargent said, “I don’t think we should eliminate anybody or exclude anybody who wants to go out and vote.”
Cutting out 30 or so percent of those in the county who identify as Democrats or Independents, Sargent said, would lessen the number of overall votes.
“So I disenfranchise, 6,000 or 7,000 people, possibly,” he said. “And I don’t think that’s what the general public wants. I think they want to have a voice in government.”
The Williamson County Republican Party Executive Committee supported a bill in the legislature this year which sought to require a voter to declare their party affiliation before voting in the primary.
That bill, and others like it in years prior, Sargent said, never made it to the House floor.
“This has only really come up in the last six or eight years,” he said.
But state Republican Party executive committeewoman Rebecca Burke said the state executive party had been close to closing the primaries.
“The last time we debated, it was the closest we ever came to actually closing the primaries. We were within seven votes, which was historic,” she said.
Burke, who is running for the State House District 61 seat, said she believes the topic will be taken up again at the state level.
Though she said she doesn’t believe Democrats should vote in the Republican primary, Burke credited Williamson County Democratic Chair Holly McCall, who she said, “is really working hard to create Democratic primaries that reflect the party platform.”
“I think we need to make it as easy as possible for people to vote,” McCall said, pointing that this was the first Democratic primary of its kind in modern history.
Though she encouraged Democrats to vote in their own primary, McCall said, “I think these county offices are nonpartisan.”
Burke also requested the voter information from Gray to ensure no illegal voting had taken place in the county primary. This was a concern she and some county Republicans expressed at an April meeting after two Democratic candidates voted in the Republican primary.
Burke was concerned with the 923 voters who voted in both the 2016 Democratic primary and the recent Republican primary.
“To us, as Republicans, that suggests a goodly number of Democrats that crossed over,” she said.
“Our concerns are calmed on that, but that doesn’t mean this is resolved,” she said.
Burke said she had reached out to local Republican candidates who had lost to see if they would be seeking to contest the election.
Each candidates seeking to do so has five days after results are certified to file a challenge.
Burke said one candidate was considering contesting an election, but she has not heard back.
Since numbers have been certified, to pursue a challenge to the election, a candidate would need to provide evidence of collusion against that candidate and their party by the opposite party and candidate.
“In this particular example, I haven’t seen anything, and it would be up to that candidate to produce that evidence.”
In similar circumstances, Burke said the Republican party has not removed a candidate from the general election ballot.
Candidates Tom Tunnicliffe, Sherry Anderson and Bill Peach were also in attendance to hear the results certified.
“I haven’t heard a negative word,” Peach said of his admittance to voting in the Republican primary. “I have become a local hero.”