Amendment Legal Battle Continues

Anita Wadhwani, The Tennessean, December 30, 2014.

The legal battle continues over Tennessee’s Amendment 1, with opponents of the abortion measure calling the election process “tainted” and asking a federal judge to allow a lawsuit to continue that seeks to either re-count or reject the vote count in favor of the measure.

Amendment 1 passed with 53 percent of the vote on Nov. 4. The measure, which gives lawmakers more power to restrict or regulate abortion, was one of the most hotly contested in Tennessee’s general election. Since its passage, lawmakers have already stepped forward to propose new restrictions including waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds and new inspections of abortion clinics.

But eight Tennessee voters who oppose the measure almost immediately stepped forward to challenge the state’s vote tabulation methods. Led by Vanderbilt law professor Tracey George, who also serves as board chair of Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee and was a coordinator of the Vote No on 1 campaign, the voters filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee three days after the election. State officials have asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. On Tuesday the plaintiffs responded, calling the vote “tainted” and accusing state officials of violating voting rights “in actions that were consistent with their own political agendas.”

At issue is language in the Tennessee Constitution describing how votes for amendments must be counted.

Unlike votes for candidates, where a simple majority of votes determines the winner, Tennessee’s constitution lays out a different process for amendment votes.

For an amendment to succeed, it must be ratified “by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor,” the Constitution states.

State election officials interpreted this to mean that passage of an amendment depends on comparing the number of votes cast for governor with the number of votes cast for an amendment. To succeed an amendment must have garnered a majority of the number of votes cast for governor.

Those challenging the tabulation process say the constitutional language means that the state must count only the votes of those who cast ballots in both the governor’s race and on the amendment to determine whether a majority of those casting votes in the governor’s race also cast votes on the abortion amendment.

During the campaign, some proponents of the measure urged voters to abstain from voting in the governor’s race to boost the chances of the measure’s passage.

More than 32,000 more people voted on Amendment 1 than did for governor, according to election officials who have certified the results of the Amendment 1 vote. The measure, however, passed by a margin of more than 71,000 votes. Election officials are awaiting approval from the General Assembly to officially certify the votes for governor.

Opponents of the measure said the result of the state’s methods of counting votes was to “dilute the ‘no’ votes and increase the voting power of ‘yes’ votes was then reinforced by supporters of Amendment 1...”

They have pointed out that Tennessee’s coordinator of elections, Mark Goins, and Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who are both defendants in the case, backed versions of the measure when they served in the legislature.

It will be up to U.S. District Court Judge Joe Haynes to decide whether the case proceeds. Two other federal judges, Tom Campbell and John Nixon, both recused themselves from the case.

Read the entire article on The Tennessean's website here.


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