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Voters in Tenn. may be stripped of deciding US Senate nominees

Tennessee State Capitol
Tennessee State Capitol

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A bill is advancing in the Tennessee General Assembly that would strip primary voters from deciding who their U.S. Senate nominees would be and give that power to the state’s respective Republican and Democratic party caucuses.

Voters still would be able to decide in the general election between party candidates.

The bills sponsor, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plain, said it would return the state closer to the system used before 1913, when state lawmakers directly appointed U.S. senators, as reported by The Daily Herald.

A process that was replaced with the passage of the 17th amendment, which Niceley referred to as a “mad rush of progressive movement.” Although, more than half the states provided for popular election of senators by referendum prior to the amendment.

Interestingly, the the 17th amendment says U.S. Senators must be “elected by the people,” but does not specify that a primary election must be held.

In the one known case where a primary was not held and was challenged, in Pennsylvania following the death of Senator H. John Heinz III, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the 17th amendment does not require primaries.

Tom Tillison


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