- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - State attorneys are asking a judge to interpret language in the Tennessee Constitution that sets forth how votes for state ballot measures must be counted.

The ruling could impact a separate federal challenge against the abortion measure Amendment 1, The Tennessean (https://tnne.ws/1S2Pumc) reported.

Eight voters filed a federal suit in November 2014, shortly after passage of Amendment 1 - which stripped the right to an abortion from Tennessee’s Constitution.

The plaintiffs challenged the way the state counted votes. The say their interpretation of the Tennessee Constitution is that people who voted in the ballot race, but not for governor, should not have their votes counted.

On Tuesday, the federal suit went before U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp, who has yet to rule.

Assistant District Attorney Janet Kleinfelter argued on Friday before a Williamson County judge that it’s up to a state court, not a federal court, to interpret the language of the Tennessee Constitution.

The constitutional language in dispute: Voters “shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution.”

Kleinfelter said a plain reading of the language, legislative history and longstanding election practices make the language clear: Ballot measures must receive a majority of the votes for governor to pass, whether voters cast a vote for governor or not.

She said any other reading also would violate the federal Constitution, by compelling voters to vote for governor if they wanted their votes counted for a ballot measure.

Williamson County Circuit Judge Michael Binkley appeared sympathetic to those arguments.

“I wonder if we had, and this is a bad example, maybe, but if we had a Hillary Clinton and (Donald) Trump running for governor and I didn’t want to vote for either one … ,” Binkley said, noting he had been criticized during his own election campaign from abstaining to vote in some elections in which he did not want to vote for either candidate. Would he be forced to if he wanted his vote counted on a separate ballot measure under the federal court plaintiffs’ interpretation?

Dewey Branstetter, who represents the eight voters who filed the federal lawsuit, said the answer is “yes.”

Branstetter asked Binkley to not rule on the question at all - or alternatively wait until Sharp had ruled in the federal case.

In that case, the plaintiffs argued that “no” votes for Amendment 1 were diluted because people consciously abstained from the governor’s race to have their “yes” votes given more weight.


Information from: The Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com

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