One of the three groups who had filed to have poll watchers present during early voting has decided to withdraw their watchers.
The move comes after one voter was challenged and denied the right to vote in the Republican Primary election earlier this week.
Dennis Gregg, chairman of the Cumberland County Democratic Executive Committee, said, "We were informed before early voting started that Eric Swafford and his supporters intended to challenge voters who they believed did not have the right to vote in the Republican Primary. As the Democratic Party, we do not encourage members of our party to vote in the other party's primary, but under Tennessee law, there is no registration by parties and people are free to vote in whichever party they feel drawn to. Having looked at voting records, it is clear to me that many Tennesseans periodically shift their allegiance in order to exercise their right to choose those they wish to represent them."
Tennessee law has five grounds on which a voter may be challenged. The first four include not being a registered voter at the polling place, not the registered voter under whose name he has applied to vote, that he has already voted in the election, or that he has become ineligible to vote in the election being conducted at the polling place since he registered. The fifth is that the voter is not a bona fide member of the political party in whose primary he seeks to vote.
According to Tennessee Code Annotated 2-7-115(b), "a registered voter is entitled to vote in a primary election for offices for which the voter is qualified to vote at the polling place where the voter is registered if: 1. the voter is a bona fide member of and affiliated with the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote; or 2. at the time the voter seeks to vote, the voter declares allegiance to the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote and state that the voter intends to affiliate with that party."
Gregg said, "The guidance sent out by the state election commission, however, warns that such challenges should be rarely granted because of the difficulty of proving the allegiance of the voter at that moment."
According to Administrator of Elections Sharon York, the first request for poll watchers was presented by the Cumberland County Democratic Party. Next was Republican candidate for state representative Cameron Sexton. As the deadline to issue notice of poll watchers approached, York said she contacted Swafford to see if he, too, would be filing a list of poll watchers.
Gregg said, "One of the disturbing trends that we have seen nationally is elements of the Republican Party that seek to intimidate potential voters in order to reduce the potential votes that opposition candidates might receive."
He pointed to efforts in the Tennessee General Assembly to require photo identification for all voters, which was defeated.
"Our party decided, therefore, that the best way to monitor the behavior of the Eric Swafford campaign was to register poll watchers so that they could observe the process. It has not been our intention to challenge any voters, and we want to be clear that poll watchers are not present in the voting area, but only in the area where voters sign in."
Gregg said the Democratic Party has heard from citizens who are disturbed there are any poll watchers at all.
"[R]ather than contribute to the perception that our poll watchers are there to challenge voters, we are withdrawing our poll watchers," Gregg said. "We want all eligible voters to exercise their right to vote without fear or intimidation. If we learn that in our absence there is an increase in challenges of voter, we will return to assure that proper procedures are being followed."