DesJarlais not guaranteed victory if 35-vote margin holds up

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Even if Congressman Scott DesJarlais’ 35-vote margin holds up over state Sen. Jim Tracy after provisional votes are counted, he’s not guaranteed a victory in the Republican Party primary for the 4th Congressional District seat.

State law gives the primary board broad authority in party elections, including the right to overturn them.

Once the Aug. 7 vote is certified by county election commissions and sent to the state Division of Elections, either candidate would have five days to contest the outcome, under state law. County votes are expected to be certified no later than Aug. 25, although steps are being taken to expedite the matter.

Any challenge would then go to the governing party, in this case the State Republican Primary Board, according to Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney.

“If an election contest is received, the Primary Board would consider all arguments regarding a contest in a just and fair manner. The State Republican Party is neutral in all primaries and cannot speculate on any potential election contest,” Devaney said Monday.

Tennessee Code Annotated 2-17-104 states, “The state primary board shall hear and determine the contest and make the disposition of the contest which justice and fairness require, including setting aside the election if necessary.”

Despite that quirk in the primary election law, DesJarlais’ campaign said today it is “confident that the person with the most votes will prevail.”

The Secretary of State’s unofficial results Friday morning showed DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg physician, capturing 34,787 votes to Tracy’s 34,752, a 35-vote margin.

The results did not include provisional ballots, which are to be counted over the next few days, according to the Secretary of State’s office. It expects to have a total number of provisional ballots by Tuesday.

Provisional ballots could be necessary for cases in which voters don’t have a proper photo ID or if their signature isn’t listed but they claim to be registered in the precinct where they live. Rutherford County reportedly had eight provisional ballots that had to be verified, five of them involving photo IDS.

Also, Tennessee Division of Elections Coordinator Mark Goins has asked two counties to move up certification meetings because they weren’t scheduled until Aug. 26, the last day to certify, according to Blake Fontenay, communications director for the Secretary of State.

DesJarlais previously released two statements claiming victory, one early Friday morning and another more pointed one Friday afternoon.

“I am truly honored that the folks of the 4th Congressional District put their faith in my ability to continue to serve them effectively in Washington. My campaign made it clear from the beginning we would run on my independent, conservative record and this is precisely what we did,” DesJarlais stated.

He pointed out that while Tracy’s campaign used “desperate and disgusting personal attacks” against him, voters showed they were more interested in his congressional record. He thanks GOP primary candidates Steve Lane of Murfreesboro and John Anderson of Bell Buckle for endorsing him.

Shortly after taking a 230-vote lead Thursday night just before 10, Tracy made a victory speech at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center in Murfreesboro. He backtracked two hours later and said ballots were still out and had to be counted.

Late returns from Grundy County reportedly gave DesJarlais a lead in the voting.

Friday afternoon, Tracy sent out another statement saying, “I am thankful to all of the hundreds of volunteers who knocked on doors and made phone calls and talked to their neighbors on my behalf. We’ve had a great grass-roots effort, and I am proud of the campaign we have run. There are still ballots left to be counted in the 4th District Republican primary as we go through the certification process.”

DesJarlais’ office said Monday it had not heard of any irregularities with voting in Grundy County.

“We have not received any complaints about Grundy County relative to the 4th Congressional District race, although there have been a number of questions about write-in votes in one of the road superintendent races,” Fontenay said today.

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