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VOL. 46 | NO. 46 | Friday, November 18, 2022

Gerrymandering hits its target, turning blue red

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A couple of weeks ago in this space, I was comparing the approaching election to a medical procedure that involves ingesting large quantities of laxative followed by having a camera inserted into a bodily orifice not designed for ingress. Turns out it wasn’t that bad.

Expressed in dental terms: We expected a root canal and instead got a cleaning and a stern warning to floss.

I’m not saying it was good. Swapping a competent Democrat in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District for a Trump-hugging, election-denying, Covid-minimizing Republican does not inspire my faith in democracy.

But on the bright side, Caleb Hemmer put redrawn House District 59 on the Democratic side, outpolling the right-wing Republican Michelle Foreman.

Hemmer attributed his victory in part to “being normal,” the Tennessee Lookout reported.

How’s that for throwing shade?

That said, here are some other observations about Tennessee and national midterm results. Warning: Numbers ahead!

• Is Davidson County the un-Tennessee? The statewide results for governor showed Bill Lee with 64.9% of the vote and Jason Martin with 32.9%. But the totals in Davidson were almost the precise reverse, Martin with 63.4% and Lee with 34.2.

Figures like that are why the Metro Council, for all its quirks and foibles, is a saner bunch by orders of magnitude than the Tennessee General Assembly. Speaking of which: Ballotpedia reports Republicans increased their numbers in the House to 75 from 71. The Senate stood pat, at 27 to 6.

• The other also-rans. As you probably noticed, Lee and Martin were not the only names on the ballot running for governor. Eight other people qualified as independents, with John Gentry collecting the most votes among them (15,344), and Michael Scantland the fewest (814).

I’ve always wondered what motivates people with zero chance of even a respectable showing – and a high potential for embarrassment – to go to the trouble of qualifying. On the positive side, 2022 was an improvement of sorts. In 2018, there were 26 independent candidates for governor.

Along those lines… It isn’t Tennessee, but the race for the Senate in Georgia had its own zero-chance candidate: Chase Oliver, a Libertarian.

The only thing Oliver accomplished was to force a runoff next month between the Democratic incumbent, Raphael Warnock, and the Republican contender, Herschel Walker. As I’ve mentioned, Walker is laughably unqualified. Which might not matter.

The problem is Georgia law requires the winner to top 50% of the total vote. Not even the president of the United States is held to that standard.

• Tennessee’s successful gerrymandering. The Republican-dominated legislature redrew congressional districts to suit their red tastes, and they did a great job of screwing Nashville, which was the goal.

Case in point: the formerly Democratic 5th District. In 2020, Jim Cooper won with 100%. Republicans didn’t even field a candidate.

Presto-change-o, and the new Fifth – with Cooper reading the tea leaves and retiring – went Republican this time by 55.9 to 42.3, a 13.6-point margin.

Even at that, the Fifth was still the most closely contested of the nine races for the U.S. House. No other losing Democrat topped 40% of the vote, with Cameron Parsons in the 1st District managing only 19.7%.

Legislators have not yet figured out a way to turn Shelby County red – give it to Mississippi? – so the Democrat Steve Cohen of Memphis won the 9th District with 67.6%.

• Where am I supposed to be? In addition to the snafu of some Davidson early voters getting the wrong ballots, Twitter chatter on Election Day indicated some others showed up to vote only to find they were at the wrong place.

Jeff Roberts, Davidson elections administrator, said they were redirected to their proper precinct.

“This problem was concentrated at our locations that serve as an early voting site as well as an Election Day site,” he said in an email. “As you know, during early voting you can vote at any location. On Election Day, you must vote at your assigned location.”

Not so in Williamson County. A pilot program set up by the legislature allows voters there and in a few other counties to vote at any established “Convenient Vote Center” regardless of their residential address.

The idea is to save money. According to a legislative fiscal memorandum:

“If a county consolidates polling locations into voting centers, they will see a reduction in staffing needs. In 2020, Williamson County saved $15,000, and Wilson County saved $23,080 in expenses for poll officials.”

Which system do you think is better?

• Ch-ch-ch-changes. Not surprisingly, state voters approved all four proposed amendments to the state constitution. The one getting the highest yes vote – 79.5% – was to repeal language that allows for slavery as a punishment for some criminal offenses. Which means roughly 20% voted to retain the slavery provision.

A note: The language the amendment repeals, barring slavery and involuntary servitude “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” is still in the U.S. Constitution.

The lowest yes vote was for Amendment 4, to remove constitutional language that bars members of the clergy from serving in the legislature. Almost 37% voted to keep the prohibition.

A note: The Constitution still nominally bars atheists from holding office. And duelists. But not dimwits.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.

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