Sign up for newsletter >>
How to Vote in Tennessee's Open Primary Elections

How to Vote in Tennessee's Open Primary Elections

April Showers Bring May Primary Elections

All Eyes Are on the 5th District Race, But You Should Care More About the May Primary Elections in Nashville

Before we jump in, some basic terminology:

Primary Elections This election is held before the General Election and narrows the field. Democrats vote in the Democratic primaries and Republicans vote in the Republican primaries (usually… We'll come back to this).

General Elections The regular election to select candidates for office. Winner takes all, and you can vote for any party in any category.

Cheat sheet if you don't have time to read this whole thing:

  1. You can vote in any primary you want, regardless of the political party. Yup! Tennessee is an open primary state. No official party affiliation needed.
  2. If you're a Republican in Davidson County, you should consider voting in the Democratic primaries this May. The catch? It means forgoing your ability to vote in the Republican primary (just the May one, not the August one).
  3. No, it won't ruin anything for Republicans.
  4. Why not? Because, aside from School Board positions, there are no Republicans who are competing against each other in the Republican primaries, much less running at all. Check out the ballot for yourself… basically all Democrats.
  5. There is nothing legally or ethically dubious about this. If you don't vote in the Davidson County Democratic primary, you won't have a voice at all! There are basically no Republican choices and Davidson County has progressive activists on the ballot! Uncontested by any other party. Check out the DA race!


Election Day May 3rd, 2022
Registration Deadline April 4th, 2022
Early Voting April 13th – 28th, 2022

Find your polling placeAdditional info

Cheatsheet fin. If you want more knowledge…


Click links to find out more about what each position does


This is not the same primary election as the August primaries which include TN Senate, TN House, and US House seats. That doesn’t mean it’s not important. Some of the most powerful positions — that will determine the safety and future of our city — are included in May’s primaries. Exciting news until you actually look at the ballot. The positions holding primary elections in May are overwhelmingly dominated by one party — Democrats.

If you don’t vote in the primary election at all — because the party you usually affiliate with provides no candidates — the only choices you’ll have during the General Election are to vote for the person who won the primary and made it onto the general election ballot without your input at all.

Fortunately, in Tennessee, we have open primaries.

How does this work?
Well, during primaries you get a ballot that is affiliated with only one party. If you want to vote for Republicans in the primary, you must fill out a Republican primary ballot. The same goes for Democrats.

I can vote in a primary and not be affiliated with that party?
When you register to vote in Tennessee, you don’t register under any particular party affiliation. Therefore, any Tennessean can choose to vote in whatever primary election they want. If you’re looking ahead at an election season overwhelmingly dominated by one party in your county/district races — even if you don’t normally vote in alignment with that particular party — you can choose to vote in that party's primary election.

Here’s the catch, you can only vote in one May primary. If you vote in the May Democratic primary, you cannot vote in the May Republican primary. You’ll have to choose one. This doesn’t apply to other primaries that come up later in the same election year (e.g., you can vote on the Democratic ballot during the May primary election, and vote on the Republican ballot during the August primary election). It's worth noting that the only Republican primary this May is for School Board positions.

Why does this matter?
Arguably, some of the most important races that affect Davidson County directly have primaries coming up in May. The District Attorney, the Sheriff, different Judges, and School Board positions. If you look over this May’s primary election ballot, you’ll notice that there are very few contested seats. Also, the only Republican positions with competitive primaries are for School Board positions.

Since there are so few Republicans running, should Republicans just throw up their hands during an important primary election, for say, the District Attorney race? Not at all. If there is no one on the Republican Primary ballot you care to cast your vote for in May’s primaries, it is not unthinkable to put your two cents in by voting on a Democratic primary ballot instead.

In the past, this freedom has been used as an underhanded political tactic.

Here’s a scenario: say there is only one Democrat running for an elected position, uncontested by any other Democrats on the primary ballot, but there are two Republicans running for that same position that are competing with each other on the primary ballot — because this is an open primary state, Democrats who want their Democratic candidate to have the best chance of winning during the General Election can organize and cast votes in the Republican primary for who they think would be the weaker Republican candidate. If their organized effort is successful, this tactic has the potential to put the weaker Republican candidate up against their Democratic candidate on the ballot during the General Election.

Of course, this tactic has been used by all political parties, but has it been successful? Hard to tell. This kind of ballot box coup would be pretty hard to pull off.

The above example outlines a less than honorable scenario, but it is definitely not the type of situation we’re looking at this May. Why is the May primary election different? Because the ballot is overwhelmingly dominated by one party. Voting in the Democratic primary in May is a perfectly reasonable way to exercise your right to vote. These elected officials will be shaping Davidson County for years to come.