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Elaine Davis on Governor Lee signing her district election bill into law
Published May 12, 2023; 1:16 p.m.

KNOXVILLE -- House Bill 817, by Elaine Davis, and Senate Bill 526, by Frank Niceley, were introduced to make sure all Tennesseans have fair elections and registered voters in districts are not disenfranchised by voters outside of their district.

In 1983, Knoxville’s former State Representative Pete Drew introduced House Bill 381 to create a new Tennessee general election law because he felt that some Tennesseans were being disenfranchised in district elections. HB381 became law as Chapter 404 of the Public Acts of 1983. That public act created the general election law Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 6-53-110.

The most important part of TCA 6-53-110 is the first subsection ((a)(1)(A)(B)(2)) which was referred to in 1983 as the “brainchild” of Rep. Drew. This section establishes the intent that if a candidate is nominated by a district they must be elected by that district’s voters. Through multiple amendments, including from legislators other than Rep. Drew, the 1983 bill was changed in the lower subsections which created some exemptions to the first subsection.

Forty years later, HB817/SB526 supports the intent of former Rep. Drew by amending the law to delete those exemptions so if a candidate is nominated by a district’s voters they must be elected by that district’s voters. This means the six city council districts in Knoxville will be true districts.

The Tennessee Constitution, TCA 6-53-110, and local charters all agree that the Tennessee General Assembly has final authority on general election law. HB817/SB526 is general election law because it impacts multiple communities across Tennessee. The 1983 act was also general election law, and it was enacted that year despite apparently all Knoxville city council elected officials opposing it. Part of their concerns were about home rule and their charter.

District voters being disenfranchised has been a problem for decades. In 1983, on the House floor Rep. Drew mentioned he was aware of four examples of candidates who won their districts, including by wide margins, but lost the election to voters outside of the district. Since 1983, there have been at least six more examples, including four more from Knoxville in the 1997, 2009, 2017, and 2021 city elections. Two examples from Morristown in their 2021 city election.

HB817/SB526 does not change any Tennessee law regarding partisan elections, nor does it eliminate runoff elections.

“I would like to thank Governor Lee for signing this important bill to enact fair elections.”


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