Rep. Mark Pody originally proposed the bill that would become that law, though it did not garner support was withdrawn. At the time, Pody’s proposed bill was to prevent nepotism in local elections.
“When I proposed my bill, I couldn’t get votes in subcommittee,” Pody said. “What I was trying to do was make sure that elected officials couldn’t have immediate family members on the election commission.”
Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, used the withdrawn bill as a vehicle to pass the law, amending it to state that an election commission chairman must be of the majority party. The law went into effect July 1.
Under a separate law, Republicans have a majority on all county election commissions and the state election commission.
Michael Fitzgibbons, a member of the Democratic Party, was elected as chairman of the Sevier County Election Commission in 2015. He was forced out of his role due to the new law change. Fitzgibbons was the only Democratic chair in the state.
The state election commission also voted to remove Fitzgibbons as chairman in Sevier County.
“This is just another example of the unrestrained power that Republicans have cultivated in the state legislature,” Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said. “They make secret deals, sweep bad behavior under the rug and override the will of local voters.”
According to The Knoxville News Sentinel’s blog Humphrey on the Hill by Tom Humphrey, Fitzgibbons has continued to describe himself as chairman and said the vote was out of order.
The new law also said at least one member of each party would sit on the executive committee, which was not previously a requirement, Pody said.
“I think both parties should have at least one person on the executive committee,” Pody said. “One side cannot exclude the other. It might be in our favor right now, but 10 years down the road, who knows what it might look like? It’s fair to both sides.”