February 23, 2024 10:00am

2024 Primary

Respondents tend to prefer open primaries and a majority take national issues into account when voting in local contests.

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Knoxville, TN Correspondent
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Knoxville-area Power Poll members overwhelmingly support Tennessee’s open primary system that allows voters to cast their ballots in either party primary. This month’s survey focused on the March 5 primary election, which features the presidential and county primary races, plus one question about a political issue that doesn’t involve this primary but could have an impact on future elections.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said voters should continue to be able to vote in the party primary of their choosing, with 21 percent preferring a closed primary system. Voters can select which party primary they prefer when they go to the polls.

A 1972 law requires that a primary voter must be a “bona fide member” of the political party whose primary ballot they request. But Tennesseans do not have to declare their party affiliation when registering to vote, so there is no such person as a “registered Republican” or a “registered Democrat.” Essentially, the law is unenforceable and crossover voting is fairly common, especially in jurisdictions where one party is dominant.

Last year, the Tennessee Legislature’s Republican supermajority passed a law requiring that signs be posted at polling places informing voters that it’s illegal to vote in a party’s primary if they are not bona fide members of or affiliated with that party. The League of Women Voters of Tennessee, former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, and real estate developer Phil Lawson filed a federal lawsuit in November challenging the law requiring the signs to be posted. A trial date has been set for Aug. 12, 2025.

For now, the signs are posted in all early voting locations and will be in every precinct polling place on March 5, Knox County Election Administrator Chris Davis said. Crossover voting could be playing a role in this year’s primary. There is only one contested race in the Democratic primary, and nearly 80 percent of voters so far have asked for Republican ballots.

While the presidential race tops the primary ballot for both parties, there are numerous local contests — seven County Commission seats, four school board seats, property assessor, law director, and Criminal Court judge are on the ballot. National issues have an impact on the local races, even those that local officials don’t have the authority to address.

A majority of survey respondents said they consider national issues such as immigration or a president’s conduct when they evaluate candidates for local offices. Fifty-seven percent said national issues were very (31 percent) or somewhat (26 percent) important in local races, while 27 percent said they don’t consider national matters in local contests.

Power Poll respondents were pessimistic that this year’s primary turnout would exceed the turnout in 2020, the last presidential election year. In 2020, more than 83,000 Knox Countians cast ballots in the primary. A majority — 56 percent — predicted turnout would be lower this year than in 2020, with just 31 percent saying more voters would cast ballots in the 2024 primary.

So far, early voting figures are trending the way the majority of respondents forecast. At the halfway point on Tuesday, the early voting turnout was 17 percent lower than it was at the same point in 2020.

The survey asked one question that isn’t related to the primary, but could affect future elections. State Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat, is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Marsha Blackburn. But she’s also running for reelection to the 90th District state House seat she now occupies.

Fifty-five percent of Power Poll respondents said candidates should not be allowed to run for two offices in the same election cycle, while 32 percent said they should be permitted to do so. The remainder were uncertain.

Yesterday, the state Senate passed a bill that would prevent people from running for or serving in more than one office simultaneously. Sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs and Rep. David Wright, the bill squeaked through the Senate on a 17-15 vote and will be considered next week by the House Local Government Committee.

Briggs has said he did not file the legislation in response to Johnson’s decision to run for both seats. Much of the opposition to the bill is coming from lawmakers who represent rural districts, where it’s common for people to serve in more than one office.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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