The special election, which is scheduled for November 21, with early voting in effect from Friday, November 1, though Saturday, November 16, will pit Tomasik against Ramesh Akbari, who won the Democratic nomination for the seat in a special primary election on October 8. The election is to determine a successor to the late Lois DeBerry.
In view of the closeness of the general election date, lawyers for Tomasik had sought an emergency injunction from Judge Haynes, who, after hearing arguments at a hearing Thursday, issued it from the bench.
In making his ruling, Judge Haynes noted that in February 2012 he had already ruled unconstitutional provisions of Tennessee’s pre-existing ballot access law, which had allowed automatic ballot access only for Democratic and Republican candidates, requiring “minor” parties to meet standards for ballot access which he considered prohibitively difficult.
That ruling was in response to a joint suit by the Green Party and Constitutional Party, who were faced with a requirement to present roughly 40,000 signatures on petitions to gain state ballot access. That figure, representing 2.5 percent of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election, was coupled with early deadlines and with requirements that petitioners be members of the affected parties
The offices state Election Coordinator Mark Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett were the defendants in 2012 and in Libertarian Tomasik’s case as well. The state has appealed Haynes 2012 ruling.
Meanwhile, efforts have been underway in the General Assembly to reform the state’s ballot access law. State Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) filed SB 1091 in the 2013 legislative session, which would require milder requirements for minor parties to gain ballot access — 250 petitioners in the case of state Senate or state House elections.
The bill was bottled up in the state and local committees of both legislative chambers, but a 9-member study commission on ballot access was created, with Kyle as the sole Democrat among six legislative members. One member each from the Green, Libertarian, and Constitutional parties filled out the commission’s membership.
Kyle said that Senator Ken Yager (R, Harriman, chairman of the House state and local committee and ad hoc chair of the commission, had canceled a meeting of the commission that had been scheduled for mid-October. That was about the time that Tomasik filed his suit.
Prior to Thursday’s hearing and Judge Haynes’ ruling, Kyle had welcomed the hearing as a test case for ballot-access reform. The Memphis Democrat, chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus, said Jason Huff of his staff had done a study indicating that both the state and the nation were subject to cycles of party realignment which recurred roughly every 70 years and that the political ferment for such a moment was at hand.
Kyle also suggested that sates with elected secretaries of state had proved most amenable to ballot-access reform and that perhaps Tennessee should transition to a method of popular election for its secretary of state.