In an article titled, “Candidate booted from ballot sues Tennessee GOP”, the Washington Examiner failed to note key facts about the TN-5 candidate disqualification process.

The piece instead irresponsibly used comments by disqualified candidate Robby Starbuck and his lawsuit against the Tennessee Republican Party and the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office as its main source material.

Failure Number 1

While Starbuck did not comply with a bylaw requiring candidates to vote in three of the past four Republican primaries, he met the alternative vouching requirement and secured the necessary supportive letters from party officials, the suit contends.

The Examiner piece fails to note, which was previously reported upon by The Tennessee Star, what the Tennessee Republican Party bylaws say about vouching.

“Any individual who is vouched for in writing (to the satisfaction of the decision makers defined herein) as a bona fide Republican by an officer of the TRP or a member of the CEC, excluding SEC members, of the County and/or District where said individual resides. The decision makers defined herein may require additional verification that said individual is indeed a bona fide Republican.”

According to that clause in the TRP bylaws, a challenged candidate being vouched for is not enough to restore that candidate to the GOP primary ballot as a “bona fide” Tennessee Republican eligible to be placed on the GOP primary ballot for a public office.

In this case, “to the satisfaction of the decision makers defined herein,” were 16 members of the SEC and Chairman Golden who voted 13-3 to not restore Starbuck to the ballot. Golden did not cast a vote.

Failure Number 2

The Examiner piece additionally fails to note that the “to the satisfaction of the decision makers defined herein” clause does not specify what criteria the decision makers must use in making their determination.

It may have included but wouldn’t be limited to some of the following:

  • Length of participation in supporting the Tennessee Republican Party
  • Type of cited participation – was it to support the party, or was it to advance their own candidacy?
  • Their voting record. In the case of Robby Starbuck, how credible was the claim by those who vouched for him that he was a “bona fide” Tennessee Republican when he failed to vote in the two Tennessee statewide Republican primaries in 2020?
  • How long they lived in and were registered to vote in the state of Tennessee. In the case of Robby Starbuck, he did not register to vote in Tennessee until July 2019. He claimed to have rented a house in Tennessee in December 2018.

After a thorough review of the documents submitted by the three challenged candidates, the committee voted against restoring all three challenged candidates to the August 4 Tennessee Republican primary ballot.

Failure Number 3

“Based on the TRP’s early statements about its standards and process, it was apparently making them up as it went along,” the lawsuit claims. “The TRP’s decision to disqualify Mr. Starbuck is essentially a camouflaged residency requirement, which it arrives at by a contorted, arbitrary application of its authority to limit primary candidates to bona fide party members.”

The piece fails to note that the Tennessee Republican Party removal and challenge process has been in existence for a very long time.

Also previously reported by The Star, Since 1994, the bylaws have been very clear, explicitly stating (see Article III, Section 1 B) that the term “Bona fide Tennessee Republican,” which specifies the requirement for candidates eligible to run for public office in Republican primaries, is defined in Article IX, Section 1 of the bylaws.

In 2017, the TRP amended its bylaws with respect to the requirements for a candidate for public office to be determined to be a “bona fide” Tennessee Republican.

Instead of meeting any one of three standards, candidates now had to meet the first of those previous three standards – being active in the Tennessee Republican Party, and one of two standards:

  • One of the two standards – being vouched for in writing as a “bona fide” Republican to the satisfaction of the party chairman – was exactly the same as one of the three previous standards.
  • And the second of those two standards – having voted in three of the four most recent statewide Republican primaries – being more strict than the earlier third standard, which only required an individual to have voted in two of the four most recent statewide Republican primaries.

Those standards established in 2017 govern the removal and vouching process in existence today, not the recently passed three-year residency requirement law.

In 2021, the State Executive Committee of the Tennessee Republican Party passed an amendment to the bylaws which revised the decision maker authorized to determine the “bona fide” Tennessee Republican status of candidates eligible to run for public office in a TN GOP primary. Previously, that decision maker was the state chair, solely. The amendment placed that decision making authority in the hands of a committee that includes the party chairman. The amendment also prohibited Republican elected officials and SEC members from vouching for the bona fide status of candidates who had been challenged.

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Aaron Gulbransen is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow Aaron on GETTRTwitter, and Parler.
Photo “Robby Starbuck” by Robby Starbuck.