Officials say 200-plus votes cast for wrong Nashville races

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — More than 200 votes have been cast in the wrong races in Nashville since early voting began in Tennessee, election officials confirmed Wednesday.

Davidson County election administrator Jeff Roberts said his office reviewed voter data throughout the night after The Associated Press alerted officials Tuesday that voters were receiving conflicting information on what race they could vote in for the midterm elections.

That review determined that 190 voters cast ballots in a wrong congressional race, 16 cast votes in a wrong state Senate race and six cast votes in a wrong state House race. Roberts remained confident voters would receive the correct ballots for the remaining two days of early voting in Tennessee.

“The fix has been put in place,” Roberts said, adding he had sent the correct updates to the secretary of state’s office earlier Wednesday. Secretary of state spokesperson Julia Bruck said the office was first made aware of the issue Tuesday afternoon. The district assignment information on the state’s GoVoteTN app was updated late Wednesday morning, she said.

Officials say votes that have been already cast will be counted for those races. Voters do not have an option to retract their vote.

The issue comes after Republican lawmakers split up multiple precincts throughout Davidson County while redrawing Nashville’s congressional maps in hopes of flipping a Democratic seat. As a result, voters now live in splintered precincts and some have been incorrectly grouped in the wrong district. But according to the county, no issues surrounding ballots being cast in the wrong race were raised during the primary, which took place in August.

Democratic leaders and candidates on Wednesday largely cast blame on state Republicans over how the redistricting map divided Nashville, diluting the voting power of communities of color. They called for an investigation into the errors while criticizing local election officials as well. Republican legislative leaders squared their criticisms on Nashville election officials.

“To every person that feels frustrated, disenfranchised, don’t disengage,” Odessa Kelly, Democratic nominee in the 7th Congressional District, said at a news conference. “Lean into the process. Lean deep into the process. If you can hear my voice, if you can see my face, this is your election. This is your district. This is your future.”

Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton said it was a “ridiculous idea” that the congressional map is to blame, and noted requirements to have equal populations in districts. He criticized Democrats for talking about suing over that map earlier this year, but never filing a challenge.

“They’re complaining about something they could’ve sued about, but they didn’t sue because they couldn’t win,” Sexton told the AP. “So, it’s kind of hypocritical.”

GOP Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s spokesperson called the Davidson County error “clearly regrettable” and urged the county to examine their internal processes to avoid repeat problems.

Sexton said the issue will be a topic of discussion when the Legislature returns in January, and could result in lawmakers taking away “some autonomy” from Davidson election officials and installing more oversight over them.

In Tennessee, local election commissions each have a 3-2 majority that favors the political party in charge of the Legislature — currently, Republican.

Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Washington-based Democracy Fund foundation, said similar mistakes have happened elsewhere in the U.S., and they usually come to light in the first election cycle right after once-a-decade redistricting.

“We’ve seen it happen in a couple of places already this midterm,” Patrick said. “And I doubt if Tennessee is going to be the last example.”

Roberts confirmed that the problem was not contained solely to one voting precinct or just one congressional race. Instead, it affected multiple addresses across all of Davidson County — one of the state’s most populous regions.

Bruck, the secretary of state spokesperson, said the “office does not play a role in the assignment of voters to their respective districts. That responsibility rests with the county election commissions.”

Under the redistricting plan, Republican state lawmakers carved Nashville into three different seats, spurring the city’s longtime Democratic representative, Jim Cooper, not to seek reelection. That created an open race in a newly drawn district — now snaking through six counties — that favored Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 12 percentage points in the 2020 presidential race. Republican Andy Ogles and Democrat Heidi Campbell are competing for the open 5th District seat.

The 6th District is the most favorable Nashville seat for Republicans, where GOP U.S. Rep. John Rose of Cookeville is running for another term. Trump topped Biden there by 30 points. Rose faces Democrat Randal Cooper.

Kelly is running against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Green in the 7th District, which extends through 14 counties. Its voters favored Trump over Biden by 15 percentage points. Both Kelly and Green have criticized the redistricting map.

“I’m shocked and disappointed to hear about the balloting issue in Davidson County,” Green said in a statement. “No one should ever have to worry about whether or not their vote was cast properly. The Davidson County Election Commission needs to fix this immediately.”

Marie Campbell said her voter registration card showed she was in the 6th District, and that’s where the Nashville resident voted in the primary election and where she thought she would be voting in the general, despite her interest in supporting Kelly in the 7th. When she heard about the district assignment error, she noticed she should be in the 7th. When she cast her early voting ballot Wednesday, she was able to vote in the 7th District.

“I just would have approached the campaign a lot differently if I had known my neighborhood was in (Kelly’s) district,” Campbell said. “I would have canvassed a lot.”

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections.

Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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