Supporters of stricter abortion regulations in Tennessee say an effort to have the Amendment 1 vote overturned subverts the will of the voters.
Amendment 1 — which changes the Tennessee Constitution to make it easier for lawmakers to restrict abortion — passed last week with 53 percent of voters casting ballots in favor.
On Friday, opponents of the amendment filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nashville claiming the state is not correctly counting the votes and asking the court to intervene.
The “Yes on 1” campaign released a statement on Saturday denouncing the lawsuit. It accuses the plaintiffs of “refusing to trust the common sense and compassion of Tennesseans who voted to approve Amendment 1.”
The Tennessee Constitution states that voters must “approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor, voting in their favor.”
The longstanding interpretation of that language 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. So, if 1,000,000 people vote for governor, the amendment has to receive at least 500,001 votes in favor in order to pass.
But the lawsuit says the language of the constitution refers not to the number of voters, but to the voters themselves. That is, only voters who cast actual ballots in the governor’s race should be able to have their votes counted on the amendments.
The lawsuit argues that the state’s method of counting the votes allowed supporters of Amendment 1 to game the system by voting for the amendment and skipping the governor’s race. With fewer votes for governor, the threshold number of votes needed to pass the amendment is lower. And about 30,000 more people cast ballots on Amendment 1 than in the governor’s race, according to unofficial results.
But supporters of the amendment point out that the margin of victory is larger than the difference in ballots cast. The amendment won by about 70,000 votes, according to unofficial results.
“Rather than accept defeat, Planned Parenthood and the nation’s pro-abortion movement are willing to disenfranchise Tennessee voters,” Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, said in a statement.
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to step in and force the state to count the votes according to plaintiff’s interpretation of the constitution. If that is impossible, it asks the court to invalidate the vote on that amendment.
Plaintiff’s attorney Bill Harbison said he did not think that a ruling invalidating the vote on Amendment 1 would necessarily affect the other three amendments that passed last week because the circumstances surrounding those races are different.
“With respect to Amendment 1, we believe there was a coordinated effort by supporters to vote only on the amendment and not in the governor’s race in order to give the ‘yes’ votes greater weight,” he said.
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