By MATT BLOIS
A prosecutor has decided not to charge two Democratic candidates who voted in the Republican Primary in May for violating a state voting law.
In a letter dated July 16, special prosecutor Kent Chitwood told the Williamson County Election Commission that he wouldn’t prosecute Democratic candidates Anne McGraw and Bill Peach because the law wasn’t clear enough.
McGraw is running for a seat on the County Commission in District 4 and Peach is hoping to represent District 63 in the State House. They are both running as Democrats, but voted in the Republican primary on May 1.
State law says that registered voters can vote in primary elections if they are bona fide members of the party in whose primary they want to vote in. Voters can also declare allegiance to a political party when they show up to vote.
As previously reported by the Home Page, the Election Commission asked the district attorney’s office to look into the issue after inquiries from Williamson County Republicans.
The District Attorney for the 21st Judicial District turned the complaint over to the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference because of a conflict of interest in that office. The conference assigned a special prosecutor.
The letter from Chitwood says it is not totally clear how to define a bona fide Republican or Democrat. That makes it hard for voters to know whether or not they are committing a crime when they vote. He concluded there shouldn’t be any criminal prosecution in these types of cases.
“As to whether Ms. McGraw or Mr. Peach were “bona fide” Democratic candidates is a matter between themselves and the Democratic Executive Committee and not a matter to be prosecuted criminally,” the letter states.
The bylaws of the Tennessee Democratic Executive Committee define a bona fide Democrat as someone whose record of “public service, actions, accomplishments, public writings and/or public statements demonstrates that he or she is faithful to the interests, welfare and success of the Democratic Party.”
The state’s Republican party has similar language in its bylaws. It defines a bona fide Republican as someone who is actively involved in the Tennessee or County Republican parties and has voted in recent Republican primary elections.
According to the letter from Chitwood, neither of those definitions is clear enough to justify a criminal prosecution.
“For a voter to know whether they are considered “bona fide” or not by a particular party, they would have to know what public service is relevant, how much public service is necessary, and then how much weight is given to the public service in the final determination,” Chitwood wrote in the letter.
That ambiguity caused Chitwood to determine that prosecution wasn’t necessary.
Peach said that he has frequently voted in Republican primaries because there wasn’t always a Democratic option. According to the letter, he has voted in 12 Republican primaries in the last 24 elections.
On May 1, Peach didn’t have a Democratic primary to vote in because there were no Democrats running for County Commission in District 12, where he resides. McGraw could have voted in a primary, but she was the only Democrat running for County Commission in her district.
Peach said he thinks that only allowing bona fide members of a party to vote in primary elections is a form of disenfranchisement.
Under current law, voters that don’t want to affiliate with either party wouldn’t be allowed to vote in primary elections. Peach thinks that’s a pretty large group.
“To most people being a Republican is about as offensive as being a Democrat,” he said.
In the upcoming statewide election Peach said choosing which primary to vote in won’t be an issue. Despite voting frequently in Republican primaries at the local level he said he won’t vote for Republicans running for statewide offices.
“There’s nobody on it I want to vote for,” he said. “I don’t vote for Republicans in statewide elections.”