Today is Saturday, August 19, 2017

The future of the State Election Commission

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By State Rep. SUSAN LYNN

When a political party wins a majority in a legislative body, a number of things happen. In the Tennessee General Assembly, the change to Republican leadership after 140 years of Democrat control has brought several required Constitutional and legal changes. 

For instance, the House and Senate have new Speakers. House Republicans have been appointed to committee leadership positions for the first time since anyone can remember. The Republican nominees for Secretary of State, State Treasurer and State Comptroller won their elections. Republicans now comprise the majority membership on all 95 county election commissions. 

However, one change that has not occurred in accordance with state law is the restructuring of the State Election Commission to reflect a Republican majority.

State law provides for the majority party to hold the majority of the five seats on the State Election Commission. Thus far, in the 6-1/2 months since the November election, this change in commission composition has not taken place. 

Tennesseans should be proud of the way the members of the state election commission have always worked well together. In fact, it is my understanding that the minority party members on the commission have expressed a willingness to cooperate regarding the statutory change of leadership. 

It seems that the minority party members in the General Assembly may be taking advantage of a conflicting statute which obstructs fulfillment of the law. The statute provides election commission members four year terms. Because the commissioners’ terms are not staggered, none of the terms end until 2011; by then Democrats hope to have reclaimed the majority in the General Assembly and regain a legal majority control of the State Election Commission.

It is these conflicting statutes that are at issue, because of the long history of control by single party control it was never before noticed that the conflict could spoil the clear and overriding intent of the law; for the majority party to take their rightful place at the helm of commission membership and leadership. 

Majority control is not insignificant; election commissioners are policy makers.  Their policies direct the administrators and other office employees in every county election commission office in the state. 

This places Republicans in a quandary -- what should we do about this obstructionism? 

Recently Republicans tried legislative measures to bring about a lawful change in the make-up of the commission but House Democrats banded together and rendered this attempt fruitless. 

There is another possible option. The State Election Commission is due to “sunset” this year which means if it is not renewed by the General Assembly it goes out of existence. 

As Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, my committee reviews each entity and decides whether to recommend continuance or termination. In discussion with Republican leadership, we concluded that allowing the Commission to sunset may be our best and only remaining option. 

Clearly, the State Election Commission is not properly constituted according to the letter and intent of the state law. Will the State Election Commission sunset? I am hoping that we will instead see bipartisan cooperation to ensure the Commission reflects state law.

Editor’s Note: State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Lebanon, represents House District 57.

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