The big Nashville news this weekend was that Robby Starbuck won his court case granting him a temporary injunction and putting him back on the August primary ballot as a Republican candidate for the US Congressional seat in the 5th district. The Tennessee Republican Party has since filed an appeal, but that doesn’t overturn or place a hold on this ruling. We’ll get more into that later.
The court ruling reinstating Starbuck came on Friday evening from Judge Perkins who delivered his order which outlined that the closed door State Executive Committee (SEC) meeting in which Robby Starbuck was disqualified as a Republican candidate was in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act (TOMO).
The Tennessee Journal reported that “According to the Attorney General’s Office, the deadline to finalize ballots is June 10.” This is the same date as stated in the previous Federal court case where Starbuck’s motion was denied by Chief District Judge Crenshaw who posed the question to the State Election Commission; a defendant in the case.
ARE MORGAN ORTAGUS AND BAXTER LEE ON THE BALLOT?
Since this court ruling found the SEC in violation of TOMA and voided their decision made behind closed doors, this ruling also has implications for Trump-endorsed Morgan Ortagus and Baxter Lee. Both candidates were stripped of their place on the ballot during the same meeting. It is unclear if the two candidates have a choice of whether or not they are placed back on the ballot. It is also worth noting that Morgan Ortagus has since backed 5th district US Congressional candidate Kurt Winstead as co-chair of his national security advisory committee.
The August 4th primary is still 2 months away, but ballot printing and preparation are done in advance. The June 10th deadline is largely due to the fact that correct ballots must be sent out to Tennesseans overseas (military service members being an example) in a timely fashion so their votes are properly counted. This time crunch becomes even more daunting given that the Tennessee Republican Party (TRP) has filed an appeal with a motion to stay the order. Just because an appeal has been filed does not hinder the court decision made by Judge Perkins in favor of Robby Starbuck and reinstating him to the ballot. The appeal has to be approved to be heard.
Even if the appeal is accepted, this does not pause the order given by Judge Perkins voiding the SEC decision and placing Robby Starbuck, Morgan Ortagus, and Baxter Lee back on the ballot. The only way the order can be paused is if the TRP’s lawyer motions to stay (meaning the temporary injunction that places the candidates back on the ballot would be paused). The TRP did file a motion to stay but it will not go into effect unless a judge approves the motion. We will continue to update readers as the story develops.
WHO ARE SEC MEMBERS
The Starbuck case has exposed the closed door meeting where the State Executive Committee decided to disqualify the three candidates. These candidates originally didn’t meet party qualifications due to the fact that they did not vote in 3 of the last 4 Republican primaries. The candidates then had an opportunity to make their case that they are, in fact, bona fide Republicans. The closed SEC meeting where the final decision was made included 17 SEC members.
According to The TN Star, this was how they voted:
- The vote against restoring Robby Starbuck to the ballot was 13 to 3.
- The vote against restoring Morgan Ortagus to the ballot was 13 to 3.
- The vote against restoring Baxter Lee to the ballot was 10 to 6.
SEC MEMBERS ARE ON THE BALLOT, TOO
The State Executive Committee positions are voted on by the public. In fact, there are 10 Republicans running for SEC positions in Davidson County this year. All SEC candidates must also be vetted and adhere to bona fide Republican standards.
It is worth noting that Davidson County's ballot is extraordinarily long for the August primary due to an abundance of 5th district candidates and 4 Charter amendments. The ballot is so long that the Davidson County Election Commission voted to add an extra day to early voting. It’ll look like this:
- If you are voting using an absentee ballot, your ballot will be 4 pages, covered front and back.
- If you are voting in person, you will have to input two pieces of paper when scanning your vote.
Buckle up, we’re in for an unprecedented primary election.