Tennessee offers $1,000 reward for voter fraud reports, removes COVID-19 language from forms

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Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett comments on coronavirus guidelines as they apply to election polling sites, Friday, July 24, 2020, in Maryville Tenn. Hargett visited the Blount County Public Library to check on polling site procedures. (Scott Keller/The Daily Times via AP)

Tennessee is now offering a $1,000 reward to people who report voter fraud.

“NOTICE: You may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000 if you make a report of voter fraud that leads to a conviction,” reads the newly added section of the state’s absentee ballot request form.

Julie Bruck, communications director for Secretary of State Tre Hargett, said the new section was included when the form was updated August 7. Bruck said it was added after the plaintiffs in an ongoing court challenge over expanding mail-in voting in the state suggested ways Tennessee could protect against voter fraud.

“Tennessee Coordinator of Elections [Mark] Goins agreed with the plaintiffs that this would be a deterrent to voter fraud, so he placed the hotline information on the form,” Bruck said in a statement Thursday.

Multiple studies have shown that there is no widespread voter fraud in the country, and millions of Americans vote by mail each year without systemic problems.

In January 2017, Hargett announced 42 possible cases of voter fraud among the more than 4.3 million ballots cast in the entire 2016 election cycle, with only one instance of potential fraudulent absentee voting, according to the Tennessean, who was first to report the change in absentee application.

The new form also no longer includes language about Covid-19 health concerns. Though the form includes references to underlying health conditions, hospitalization, and being ill or physically disabled asacceptable reasons to request an absentee ballot, the coronavirus is not specifically referenced.

Bruck said the change in language was made as a result of a recent Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that “fear of contracting Covid-19 is not an excuse to vote absentee in November.”

The August ruling stopped a previous lower court ruling that had allowed concern for Covid-19 to be a valid reason for anyone to vote absentee. As a result, the court ordered the state to issue guidance to voters informing those with underlying health conditions or who are caretakers that they can cast absentee ballots, according to The Tennessean.

Bruck said the updated language on the form reflects state election law.

“An underlying health condition still falls under the hospitalized, ill disabled category. State law uses the words hospitalized, ill or physically disabled and our form is consistent with state law. You will notice no specific disability, or illness is mentioned on the form,” Bruck said in an email to CNN on Thursday.

Steven Mulroy, attorney for the plaintiffs in the voter-access case, told CNN that the combination of not specifically referencing Covid-19 and the voter fraud notice could lead to confusion among voters.

The voter fraud notice is right next to the line where a voter must sign their signature.

“I think it’s done in an attempt to narrow the amount of people that will actually vote absentee,” Mulroy, a professor of law at the University of Memphis told CNN on Thursday.

“[T]he lay reader is going to look at that language about hospitalized, ill, unable to appear and look at the penalty of perjury language, and then look at the $1,000 reward and say, ‘You know what, maybe I’m eligible, maybe I’m not, but I’m not going to take a chance. I don’t want some enemy of mine dropping a line to the secretary of state and suddenly I have to answer to a criminal complaint,'” said Mulroy.

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