Robocalls, e-mails and “known Democratic activists” were working on 1st Congressional District GOP primary winner Phil Roe’s behalf, the campaign of losing incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David Davis alleged Wednesday.
“I believe that there is clear and overwhelming evidence that the integrity of this primary was violated unlawfully by huge numbers of Democrats voting to change the outcome of the Republican primary,” Davis said in a prepared release.
Davis has a law firm looking into overturning Roe’s 486-vote GOP primary win on the basis that Democrats sided with Roe and interfered in the primary.
“The evidence obtained to date illustrates that there was a systematic effort by both known and unknown persons to influence the Republican primary election for Congress in the 1st Congressional District,” Davis said. “While our detailed data analysis is not yet complete because voter data will not be available until Thursday afternoon, an initial review of the information provided by witnesses and anecdotal evidence shows that many voters who have never voted in the Republican primary chose a Republican ballot this time.
“Similarly, many voters who had a history of voting to choose the nominee of the Democrat primary chose a Republican ballot this time, and many of these were in areas in which Dr. Roe saw heavy support. Because of this evidence, we are considering challenging the results of the recent primary through the process allowed under state law.”
Davis’ campaign alleged Republicans have a constitutional right to determine their own nominees based upon a Supreme Court decision.
The campaign also cited a code section of Tennessee law saying voters “must be bona fide members of the political party” in the primary they seek to vote.
“I have no clue what he’s talking about ... but obviously he thinks he’s got something there,” Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Gena Frye said of the Tennessee law Davis’ campaign is citing.
On Tuesday, Frye pointed to a little-known state law that allows a candidate to challenge a ballot “on the grounds of party affiliation” after the election.
But election officials insist Tennessee has an open primary with voters participating in one political party’s primary but not both. When voters show up at the polls, they sign an application for a ballot and indicate the primary they desire to vote in.
Frye also pointed out Davis’ campaign had no poll watchers at Sullivan County voting locations.
In response, Roe indicated the Davis campaign release looked like it had been put together by its attorney.
“This situation is what it is. I think it does the (Republican) party a disservice. It’s time to move on,” said Roe, Johnson City’s mayor.
Davis said if his campaign decides to formally contest the primary, it will be filed with the Tennessee Republican Party’s primary board — consisting of 66 state executive committee members — within five days after the election is certified. That primary board can set aside the election results if necessary, according to state law. There are two state executive committee members for every state Senate district.
State law also allows for a recount upon an “indication of fraud if the number of votes affected would be sufficient to change the result of the election.”
When asked whether TRP might have to pay for a Davis-Roe special election if there is one, TRP Communications Director Bill Hobbs had this e-mailed response: “We are not discussing possible remedies at this time.”
One state executive committee member, John Ryder of Memphis, said in an e-mail: “Until I hear the evidence, I have no opinion on the matter. I will make my decision after I have heard the parties.”
TRP’s state executive committee saw it Davis’ way two years ago when it turned away GOP primary runner-up Richard Venable’s recount request on the basis of long voter lines and polling location issues.
Still, TRP Chair Robin Smith has already sent Roe a letter congratulating him on his victory. Her appointment as party chair was made by the state executive committee last year.
Davis’ campaign said the robocalls went into Democrats’ homes the night before the primary and encouraged people to vote in the GOP primary for “anyone but Congressman Davis.”
The campaign added there were also reports that “current and former” Democratic Party officials voted in the Republican primary.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Gray Sasser maintained Tuesday there was no organized Democratic effort to back Roe.
The 1st Congressional District hasn’t elected a Democrat in more than 100 years.