Trouble at the top of the ticket could create a dilemma for some Democratic voters this fall.
Democrats who sit out the governor's race for fear of helping Charles V. "Charlie" Brown, their previously unknown, unusually colorful nominee, could hurt their own cause on other fronts. That's because they need as many people as possible to vote in the gubernatorial election to increase their chances of defeating proposed amendments to the state constitution.
So some Democratic leaders have started sounding the alarm to get party members to cast a ballot for someone — but not just anyone — and also vote against the amendments. Democrats who want to keep a woman's right to obtain an abortion intact are especially concerned about Amendment 1, which removes abortion protections from the state constitution.
"We need them to vote for somebody who at least qualifies for the ballot or filed as an official write-in candidate," said Marisa Richmond, a member of the Davidson County Democratic Executive Committee who's working with campaigns to defeat two of the four constitutional amendments on Nov. 4. "There are seven names on the ballot. They've got some choices.
"Hopefully this time around, people will actually do some research about the candidates."
Setting a threshold
To succeed, a constitutional amendment must receive a majority of the number of votes cast in the gubernatorial election, no matter how many people vote on the amendment. If 1.4 million people vote in the governor's race, for example, the proposal to remove abortion protections from the constitution will need 700,001 votes to become law.
But if 1.5 million people vote in the abortion referendum and 1.4 million vote for governor, the same 700,001 votes will get the job done for the amendment, despite being in the minority on that issue.
On the other hand, if those 1.4 million vote for governor and just 1.3 million people vote in the abortion referendum, anti-abortion forces will need more than a simple majority to win. But Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said he doesn't think anything like that will happen.
"We think our strength will be the inspiration of people who have worked for more than a decade to get this on the ballot," Harris said. "So they're going to be energized and motivated to go and vote. And I think a good number of those same folks, both pro-life Democrats and pro-life Republicans, appreciate and respect the job the governor has done."
But Democrats who are less fond of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam could be tempted to skip the governor's race after seeing their party nominate Brown, an Oakdale retiree whose name was first on the ballot in last week's primary.
"You really don't have to vote for a candidate if you have no idea who he/she is," Metro Councilman Fabian Bedne wrote in a Facebook post. "You can skip that one and go to the next."
That's a bad idea, even if it's not the easiest thing to boil down for a bumper sticker, said Richmond, who is working to defeat both the anti-abortion amendment and a plan to outlaw a state income tax.
"We're trying to make sure people understand how the process works," Richmond said. "The key, clearly, is to vote for somebody for governor."
It wasn't clear Tuesday if votes cast for illegitimate write-in candidates, such as Mickey Mouse or Elvis Presley — or the more famous Charlie Brown, for that matter — would count toward the total in the governor's race. Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for the state elections office, said officials were consulting with the attorney general.
The deadline for write-in candidates to register with the state, which they must do for any votes to be counted in their favor, is noon on Sept. 15. The ballot for governor will list Haslam, Brown, three independents and, pending the outcome of a legal battle, one Green Party and one Constitution Party candidate.
Four proposals to amend the Tennessee Constitution will be on the statewide general election ballot Nov. 4:
• Amendment No. 1 says nothing in the constitution "secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion."
• Amendment No. 2 would add to the constitution a modified version of the current, controversial system for selecting appeals judges through appointments by the governor. The appointments would be subject to legislative confirmation, and judges would later stand for retain-or-replace retention elections.
• Amendment No. 3 would prohibit any new state or local income or payroll taxes.
• Amendment No. 4 would prohibit any lotteries — other than the state lottery, approved in a 2002 amendment — unless they're approved by a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate "for an annual event operated for the benefit of a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(19) organization." This would allow veterans' groups to hold charitable gaming events.