Judge Says All State's Voters Must Have Postal Option

Tennessee judge calls limits an 'unreasonable burden' on the right to vote
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 5, 2020 1:00 AM CDT
Judge: Tennessee Must Allow Vote by Mail for All
In this April 15, 2019 photo, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, left, attends a House session, in Nashville, Tenn.   (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Tennessee must give all of its 4.1 million registered voters the option to cast ballots by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, a judge ruled Thursday. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that the state's limits on absentee voting during the pandemic constitute "an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution." The judge wrote that any eligible voter can get an absentee ballot to avoid contracting or passing on COVID-19 in the "upcoming elections during the pendency of pandemic circumstances," the AP reports. The decision upends a determination by Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett's office that fear of catching or unwittingly spreading the virus at the polls wouldn't qualify someone to vote by mail.

The state argued such an expansion wouldn't be feasible for the 2020 elections, claiming lack of money, personnel and equipment for increased voting by mail, among other concerns. The judge's decision requires the state to "prominently post on their websites and disseminate to County Election Officials that voters who do not wish to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 virus situation are eligible to request an absentee ballot by mail or that such voters still have the option to vote in-person during Early voting or on Election Day." Hargett spokeswoman Julia Bruck indicated that the fight is expected to head for an appeal. The attorney general's office blasted the court's decision as failing to appropriately consider the “extensive safety measures” within the state's COVID-19 election plan.

(Read more Tennessee stories.)

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