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VOL. 38 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 24, 2014

Hooker seeks ruling on Tennessee ballot measure votes

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NASHVILLE (AP) - As if Tennessee's lengthy process for amending the state constitution weren't complicated enough, independent gubernatorial candidate John Jay Hooker is now raising concerns that the method for counting the votes does not pass constitutional muster.

The longstanding interpretation of the state constitution has been that in order to be ratified, proposed amendments must receive a majority of the number of votes cast in the governor's race.

But Hooker, who is one of the leading opponent of efforts to write the state's plan for merit selection of appeals judges into the Tennessee Constitution, argued in a letter to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday that only voters who cast actual ballots in the governor's race should be able to have their votes counted on the amendments.

According to language of the Tennessee Constitution, voters must "approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizen s of the state voting for governor."

The secretary of state's office is unpersuaded by Hooker's argument, said spokesman Blake Fontenay.

"Whether people vote in the governor's race doesn't affect their eligibility to vote on the amendments," he said.

Hooker's letter follows the creation of an online campaign urging Tennessee voters to skip over the governor's election as a way to help pass another proposed constitutional amendment that would give lawmakers more power to regulate abortion in the state.

The website explains that fewer votes for governor mean fewer votes will be necessary to pass the amendment. Groups supporting the abortion amendment have disavowed any knowledge of the website promoting the voting scheme.

Hooker is also demanding the resignation of Chief Justice Sharon Lee for sending a letter to lawyers around the state urging support of the merit selection amendment. He argued in a legal filing with the high court that Lee violat ed rules banning judges from using their office to further personal "economic interest."

Hooker's filing was made on behalf of himself and clients Walt Brumit, Tony Gottlieb and Holly Spann.

The court this week refused to take up Hooker's filing on the basis that his motion does not relate to any pending litigation, said courts spokeswoman Michele Wojciechowski.

"Justice Lee stands by her comments in regard to Amendment 2," Wojciechowski added.

The judicial amendment is one of four proposed changes to the Tennessee Constitution going before voters on Nov. 4.

Under the current system, the governor makes appointments to fill vacancies on the state's top courts. Voters then decide whether to keep or replace them in uncontested retention elections. The proposed amendment would add a provision to give the Legislature the power to reject the governor's nominees.

Hooker and other opponents of the current system argue the retention elections violat e a provision in the Tennessee Constitution that says the Supreme Court justices "shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state," and dismiss various legal rulings supporting the current system as tainted because they were made by jurists who have a stake in the current system.

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