A bill that seeks to strip Knoxville voter rights is making its way through the Tennessee General Assembly with a key vote happening on Tuesday, February 28th, 2023. In Knoxville City Council district races, bill HB817/SB526 would limit city voters to voting only for their own district representative on city council. Our current system allows voters in each Council district to select their top two preferences in the primary prior to the city-wide general election, providing first a district and then a city-wide opportunity to vote in district races. I strongly oppose HB817/SB526 because the voice of Knoxville city voters should not be limited to district only voting. Our focus should be on expanding voter connection to their representatives, not limiting them.
5th District example: Under present law, all Knoxville city voters can vote every two years with districts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 in one four-year cycle and district 5, Knoxville mayor, and our three at-large council representatives in a separate four-year cycle two years later. However, if HB817/SB526 becomes law and Knoxville city voters can only vote for their own district representatives, 5th district voters will only be able to vote every four years when their district representative, the Knoxville city mayor, and our three at-large city council representatives are on the ballot. Singling out the 5th district and limiting those voters to only one vote every four years, when every other district votes every two-years, is completely unacceptable. Every voter in every district deserves an equal voice in their city government.
We must retain our current city voting system which encourages each council member to collaborate with neighbors in all 6 Knoxville districts. Every current Knoxville city council member is deeply invested and knowledgeable on what is happening across Knoxville, and every resident has the ear of all nine members, not just their district representatives. I believe this proposed change would effectively erase these critical inter-district relationships, decrease voter turnout, and dramatically limit citizen engagement.
Knoxville has a long history of city-wide voting for all city council members. Prior to 1969, Knoxville had a seven member city council all of whom were at-large representatives. In 1969, a Charter change went into effect expanding council to six district representatives and three at-large representatives. For the past 54 years, all district seats have had a primary in the district with the top two vote getters moving on to a city-wide general election. Since 1969, every representative on city council from the 6th district has been a person of color with our present council being the most diverse ever.
As engaged city voters, it is important for you to understand HB817/SB526 and the negative impact it would have on Knoxville’s elections. Reach out to legislators in the House Local Government Committee and the Senate State and Local Government Committee now to let them know you oppose HB817/SB526.
4 thoughts on “New General Assembly Bill Seeks to Limit Knoxville Voter Rights”
Andrew, thanks for your alert. I hadn’t been aware of this. As I side note: I thought your discussion of the implications for District 5 voters wasn’t relevant to the main point, but the rest was right on. Thanks again!
Thanks for writing this. I agree completely. Unfortunately, I was
Andrew, Thank you. Every member running citywide makes every member accountable to every citizen and prevents a lot of games. Many of the house and senate sponsors are from the Knox County/Knoxville delegation. Does any one know what prompted this? Has City Council and the Mayor taken a position? What about the city’s lobbyist? Carlene Malone