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Tennessee Democratic Party files lawsuit against state leaders, alleging lawmakers drew illegal and gerrymandered voting maps

The complaint alleges that the Tennessee General Assembly redrew voting maps to give the Republican supermajority a partisan advantage in elections.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Democratic Party announced Wednesday that they filed a lawsuit against state leaders, including Governor Bill Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

In the lawsuit, they said the Tennessee General Assembly created illegal voting maps that violated the state's constitution as a way to give Republican members of congress a partisan advantage in elections. They also said voters were denied a substantial opportunity to participate in fundamental changes to the voting process.

They said lawmakers' voting maps violated the Tennessee Constitution in two ways. First, they said it divided more counties than was necessary when creating voting districts. The state's constitution prohibits legislators from dividing individual counties when making multi-county legislative districts.

However, the federal constitution says that legislative districts need to have roughly equal populations in the Fourteenth Amendment. To reconcile these two rules, the state's Supreme Court ruled that the General assembly must create as few county-dividing districts as necessary to ensure all voting districts have around the same population.

The lawsuit alleges that legislators divided more counties than were necessary for the new voting maps, crossing 30 county lines. Plaintiffs said an alternative map was submitted that divided 23 counties and had voting districts with more equal populations, but that map was turned down.

The second argument in the lawsuit alleges that lawmakers numbered senatorial districts in an illegal way. They said when several senatorial districts are in a single county, they must be labeled consecutively.

The requirement ensures half of the large counties' senatorial districts can vote during gubernatorial election years and the other half can vote during presidential election years.

Plaintiffs say that the new Senate map creates four senatorial districts in Davidson County, which contains Nashville. They said those districts are numbered 17, 19, 20 and 21.

As a result, they say three districts will be on the ballot during gubernatorial elections in Nashville, and one district will be on the ballot during presidential elections. They said before the map was enacted, lawmakers proposed an amendment to fix the issue but it was rejected.

Plaintiffs said that the map should be corrected before the August 2022 legislative primary elections, and said the court should give lawmakers 15 days to create new policies that fix the issues. If the General Assembly does not fix it, plaintiffs argue that the court should step in with an "interim districting plan."

Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) previously said she could see a massive change in her 13th district with the way the Republican-majority legislature redrew the State House district map. 

"They drew my portion out and put it into a different district. It is frustrating," she previously said.

She also previously said the Republican supermajority was gerrymandering the redistricting plans in their favor.

Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) said she disagrees, calling the redistricting process complicated.

"I believe that what we've done in the Senate is fair and likable and meets all the requirements that it needs to have," Massey said.

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