Analysis of the Knox County voting data for the August 6 primary and general election reveals difference-making Republican crossover votes for Democrat candidates.
At the same time there was the primary election for state and federal level offices, there was also a county general election race. In a combined primary/general election, voters can pull a Republican, Democrat, or general election only ballot.
Those voters pulling either a Republican or Democrat primary ballot are also allowed to vote for any county general election candidate, no matter the candidate’s party.
Voters pulling a general election only ballot cannot vote in either party primary, but represent a very small percentage of the total ballots.
In House District 18, there are three precincts where the entire precinct is shared with Knox County Commission District 4, which also had the tightest of the county commission general election races.
In those three precincts, it is estimated that a total of 264 Republicans crossed over from their primary ballot to vote for the general election Democrat county commission candidate Todd Frommeyer – although Republican Kyle Ward managed to win with nearly an 874 vote margin.
West Hills Precinct 46 had 693 Republican ballots versus 532 Democrat ballots for the state/federal primary. With Frommeyer receiving 606 votes in the general election, an estimated 74 Republican primary voters crossed over for the Democrat.
Bearden High School Precinct 47 had 840 Republican ballots versus 818 Democrat ballots for the state/federal primary. With Frommeyer receiving 922 in the general election, an estimated 104 Republican primary voters crossed over for the Democrat.
Deane Hill Rec Precinct 51 had 853 Republican ballots versus 343 Democrat ballots for the primary. With Frommeyer receiving 429 votes, an estimated 86 Republican primary voters crossed over for the Democrat.
The 264 crossover votes represents a significant 11.1 percent of the total in the three precincts alone. There may have been other crossover votes in other precincts within House District 18. However, there were not as competitive county general election races to make the same comparison.
A point of comparison can be made by taking a closer look at the races for three county commission districts.
In the entire 4th county commission district, not just the precincts that overlap with House District 18, the Democrat candidate got 354 Republican votes or 8.3 percent more than the number of Democrat primary ballots pulled.
In the 5th county commission district, the Democrat candidate got 334 Republican votes or 4.4 percent more than the number of Democrat primary ballots pulled.
In the 2nd county commission district, the Democrat candidate got 138 Republican votes or 3.4 percent more than the number of Democrat primary ballots pulled.
Interestingly, the 2nd district was the only district where two precincts had less votes for the Democrat than the number of Democrat ballots pulled. In that case, Democrat primary ballot pullers totaling 58 voted for the Republican candidate.
On the August 6 election day in the 4th county commission district, crossover votes became more exaggerated than in the 14 days of early voting.
Of the 794 votes cast in the three precincts that overlap the 4th county commission district and House District 18, 101 Republican votes or 12.7 percent more than the Democrat ballots pulled went to the Democrat candidate.
The obvious crossover voting raises the question when a voter pulls a Republican ballot, but votes for a Democrat in a county commission race, which Republican did they vote for in the primary for House District 18 or the U.S. Senate race or would they have voted for if the U.S. 2nd Congressional District had a Republican primary.
One such instance was the House District 18 Republican primary, where there was a difference of just 99 votes or about 1.5 percent between candidates Eddie Mannis and Gina Oster, according to Tennessee Secretary of State election results.
Even with a less than complete analysis of all of the votes cast, the number of crossover votes in just three precincts is more than double the vote difference in the entire House District 18 Republican primary race.
In late 2018, the State Executive Committee (SEC) of the Tennessee Republican Party voted overwhelmingly 45-14-1 to close the primaries.
A resolution stating such was sent from the SEC to the Tennessee General Assembly with the expectation of getting a bill passed in the supermajority Republican Senate and House.
The “Political Party Registration Act” under HB 1273 / SB 1500 was sponsored in 2019 by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), respectively. The bill failed in the House Local Committee by a vote of 2-14 with 10 Republicans voting against the proposal, The Tennessee Star reported.
The Senate bill was never taken up in committee.
Another attempt was made by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) and Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) under HB 1398 / SB 1303. The House bill failed on voice vote in the same Local Committee before being taken up in the Senate committee system.
While Republicans may be concerned about their ability to win a primary without garnering crossover votes in what was a majority Democrat state just a decade ago, the House District 18 data may offer evidence that crossover voting is more of a hindrance than a help.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.