In Tennessee election, GOP seeks to flip a seat in Nashville’s newly redrawn districts

Tennessee is a ruby-red state, with GOP leaders holding control of statewide offices and supermajorities inside the General Assembly and congressional seats.

This year, Republican Gov. Bill Lee is running for reelection against first-time Democratic opponent Jason Martin. To date, Lee has largely refused to acknowledge that he’s even in a race for a second term and has ignored Martin. That gives him something in common with national Democratic groups, who haven’t really spent in support of Martin.

The only other race attracting national attention is the fight over Nashville’s newly redrawn congressional seats. Republicans split up left-leaning Nashville into three districts during redistricting with the hopes of flipping a seat to their political party. Far-right former Mayor Andy Ogles is running against Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell in the open 5th Congressional District after Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper announced there was no path for him to win and didn’t run for reelection.

Four state constitutional amendments are also on the ballot, with the most contentious issue involving whether voters should enshrine the state’s so-called “right to work” law in the state Constitution. Nothing changes if the amendment fails, the law will still be in place regardless of what happens on Election Day, but labor advocates have campaigned heavily against the measure.

The other three amendments address the rules of succession for governor, removing the exception for slavery as punishment for a crime and removing the prohibition of clergy members serving in the state House


Finally, while there are 55 contested legislative races between the Senate and House, Republicans expect to maintain their supermajority control between the two chambers.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:

Election Night

Polls close at 7 p.m. local time (8 p.m. ET). Some counties are also in the Eastern Time Zone and those polls will close at 8 p.m ET.

How Tennessee Votes

GOP candidates have gained supermajority control throughout the state. That means now that Republicans have cleared August’s primary election, there isn’t as much expected competition in the upcoming general election.

Tennesseans generally vote in person. However, vote by mail is an option for those who meet the qualification which include those who are at higher risk of COVID-19, their caretakers, and housemates. Hand delivery of mail-in ballots is not permitted. Same day voter registration is also not allowed.


The biggest strongholds for Democrats are Memphis and Nashville, the state’s most populous and urban areas nestled in Shelby and Davidson counties. Yet without the support of rural voters, Democratic candidates acknowledge they can’t rely on those two cities alone to win statewide races – something that Democrats have struggled to do over the years.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is running for reelection against Democratic opponent Jason Martin in this year’s election.
(Tennessee governor’s office)

Meanwhile, voting advocates have raised alarms this year that Nashville’s early voting numbers are dramatically lower compared to 2018 and 2014.

Decision Notes

AP will tabulate and declare winners in 69 contested elections in Tennessee, including governor, nine U.S. House races, four ballot initiatives, and 55 state legislative seats. In the 2020 general election, AP first reported results at 8:05 p.m. ET Tuesday, Nov. 3, and 90% of results at 11:17 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

County clerks statewide process absentee ballots — which make up a fraction of the overall vote — ahead of Election Day, but no results are reported until after polls close.

The AP does not make projections and will only declare a winner when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap.

Should a candidate declare victory or offer a concession before the AP calls a race, we will cover newsworthy developments in our reporting. In doing so, we will make clear that the AP has not declared a winner and explain why.

The AP may call a statewide or U.S. House race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome.

The AP will not call down-ballot races on election night if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 2%. AP will revisit those races later in the week to confirm there aren’t enough outstanding votes left to count that could change the outcome.


What Else Should I Know?

Q: What’s Changed Since the Pandemic Election of 2020?

A: Not much in terms of how Tennessee votes. The state offers in-person early voting from October 19 through November 3, but no no-excuse voting by mail.

Q: What Do Turnout and Advance Vote Look Like?

A: In two election cycles before 2020, about 60% of the total votes statewide were cast during the early in-person voting period. The number of early in-person and no-excuse mail ballots increased the advance vote to 75% of total votes in 2020.

Q: How Long Does Counting Usually Take?

A: Tennessee usually completes tabulation by the day after Election Day. In the August primary, no county closed without claiming 100% of precincts reporting, with Shelby County, which is home to Memphis, counting until 4:30 a.m. Eastern.

Q: What Happens After Tuesday?

A: Tennessee law does not provide for automatic recounts. Anyone who wants to contest an election must do so within 5 days after certification of the election. A court or other legal body with jurisdiction over a contested election may order a recount.