Incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. David Davis is “making a major mistake” by attempting to contest his tight 1st Congressional District Republican primary loss to Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Tuesday.
Davis blamed crossover Democrats on Friday for helping Roe to a 486-vote victory in last Thursday’s GOP primary. On Monday, Davis claimed there were “voting irregularities” in the primary and said he had hired a national law firm to see whether he can legally challenge the primary election.
Davis also cited a Tennessee law that prohibits crossover voting “unless you intend to have loyalty to that party.”
Ramsey, however, said he has reminded Davis that Tennessee has an open primary system.
“You declare the way you are voting when you walk into a voting booth,” the Blountville Republican said. “It would be very hard to prove that there was concerted effort to get Democrats to vote in a Republican primary or vice versa. Even if you could prove that, I don’t see it’s illegal.”
Davis hadn’t changed his position on Tuesday.
“I’m going to protect the voting rights of Republican primary voters. ... This is about protecting the integrity of the ballot,” he said.
Tennessee voters do not have to register as Republicans or Democrats under state law. They can vote in either party primary but not in both.
Attempting to vote can, however, be challenged after election day on the grounds of party membership, according to Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Gena Frye.
Aside from party membership, a voter could be challenged for other reasons, such as residency or not being at the correct polling location, she added.
But, as Frye pointed out, poll workers don’t know who primary voters select.
After all, casting a ballot is secret.
“Who’s to say who you voted for (in the GOP primary)?” she asked. “You could have voted for David Davis or (third place GOP primary finisher) Michael Sabri? Who’s to say you actually voted for Roe? ... People don’t vote straight party lines anymore.”
Tennessee Democratic Party (TDP) Chairman Gray Sasser insisted there was no effort to organize Democrats to vote for Roe in the Republican primary and defeat Davis.
“Absolutely not,” Sasser said. “We are working very hard in the 1st Congressional District to elect Democrats. That’s where our focus has been. We did nothing to organize any Democrats to vote in the 1st Congressional District for either (Davis or Roe).”
In last February’s presidential preference primary, there appeared to be a little over 43,000 who voted Democratic in the 1st Congressional District, according to Janet Meek, TDP’s East Tennessee coordinator.
About 52,000 voted in last Thursday’s GOP primary compared to approximately 73,000 two years ago when about a dozen Republicans sought the district’s GOP nomination, according to the Tennessee Division of Elections.
Davis could seek a recount with the Tennessee Republican Party Primary Board if there was an indication of voter fraud. The board is the party’s 66-member executive committee.
Davis said the law firm he employed worked on behalf of the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign during the 2000 recount sought by failed Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore.
When asked if his campaign had about $200,000 in unspent cash on hand at the end of the primary, Davis said: “We have some debt that will be paid out of that.” Davis had loaned his 2006 campaign $160,000, according to the Federal Election Commission.
For now, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is recognizing Roe as the winner.
“Roe ran a grass-roots campaign that challenged the status quo and put people before politics. There is no doubt that he will be the next representative for Tennessee’s 1st District,” NRCC said in a prepared release.
Roe also said he believes his win will stand up.
“I predict it will be certified by the state Republican Party, and that will be the end of it. ... I trust the system,” Roe said.
Kingsport Democrat Rob Russell won the Democratic primary and will face the Republican nominee in the November general election.