Incumbent Protection Act of 2002

May 30, 2002

Incumbent Protection Act of 2002

In a bizarre twist of events Wednesday, it looks as though everyone is now watching the Incumbent Protection Act of 2002 in the House. The bill has become radioactive.

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Matt Kisber

The bill in question is HB1767, styled “An Act to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 2, relative to elections.” (SB 1201 is the Senate version.) The original bill, sponsored in the House by Ulysses Jones (D-Memphis), specified that price for purchase of voter registration list must be reasonable. However, an amendment, designated Amendment No. 2 to the House bill, sponsored by Matt Kisber (D-Jackson) goes beyond that original purpose, and would change the State law regarding gaining nominations for office in a party primary by means of a write-in vote.

The question being addressed involves primaries in which there is no candidate on the ballot. When there is no candidate for a particular office in a party primary, a prospective candidate can gain the party nomination for that office if the candidate receives an established minimum number of write-in votes. Under current law [Tenn. Code Annotated, section 2-8-113(a)], that requirement is “equal to or greater than five percent (5%) of the total number of votes cast in the primary on the day of the election.”

By way of example, in the 2000 primary election there was no Republican candidate on the ballot for State Senator in the 26th District. Savannah mayor Bob Shutt mounted a write-in campaign for the Republican nomination to oppose Lt. Gov. John Wilder for that State Senate seat. A total of 6,623 people voted in the Republican primary. Under the current law, Shutt needed at least 5% of that total, or 332 votes, to gain the Republican nomination. He in fact received 2,028 votes and became the Republican nominee to oppose Wilder in his bid for re-election. But for Shutt’s August write-in campaign, Wilder would have been unopposed in the November general election.

The Kisber Amendment would change the rules. If it became law, instead of receiving 5% of the total vote cast in the Republican Primary, a write-in candidate would have to receive a vote “equal to or greater than five percent (5%) of registered voters in the district.” If Let us estimate the number of registered voters in the 26th Senate District in 2000 to have been about 120,000. Had Bob Shutt been subject to the Kisber amendment, he would have had to receive over 6,000 write-in votes to win the Republican nomination, as opposed to the 332 write-in vote minimum under the current rules. Because the threshold set by the Kisber Amendment is a percentage of all registered voters, rather than a percentage of voters voting in the party primary, Bob Shutt would have had to receive write-in ballots from over 90% of the Republican primary voters to win the Republican nomination as a write-in candidate.

On Wednesday, May 22, the Senate refused to concur with the Kisber Amendment, and returned the bill to the House of Representatives. Apparently worried that a motion in the House “to refuse to recede from its action” in adopting House Amendment 2 would fail, someone in the House just sent the bill back to the Senate with no action taken. It showed up suddenly right at the end of the Wednesday, May 29, session day on a Senate Message Calendar with some other bills.

During the adjournment motion, some pro-income tax Senators tried to get the bill in play on the Senate floor to add Kisber Amendment to the Senate version of the bill. Senator McNally questioned the lack of action the House had taken on the bill, and joined by other anti-income tax Senators he succeeded in stopping the Senate from taking any action. The bill was sent back to the House of Representatives for the House to act on the bill as it was after the Senate refused to concur in the House amendment.

Some votes for the income tax is the House are believed to depend on the passage of HB 1767/SB 1201 with the Kisber amendment to protect incumbents.

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