MEMPHIS, Tenn. — House Democrats are praising a Nashville chancellor’s decision allowing all Tennessee voters to cast a ballot by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, though the decision comes with controversy.
Voters can ask for an absentee ballot for both the August and November elections, according to the ruling.
“This is a monumental decision made by the judge,” said state rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis).
Supporters believe it will keep voters safe, and they won’t feel forced to come to the polls and possibly be exposed or expose others to COVID.
“Today is a reminder that your right to vote will be protected even in a pandemic,” said State Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis)
Lamar said before taking the matter to court, they tried many other ways to make it happen, but hadn’t been successful.
“During the pandemic, we have asked the secretary of state to implement no-excuse absentee voting. It didn’t happen,” she said.
In Tennessee, people over 60 years old can vote absentee by mail. Everyone else has to request that option and include a reason for doing so.
The secretary of state said that fear of catching or spreading the virus wouldn’t be a good enough excuse to vote by mail. He also claimed it wouldn’t be feasible.
Thursday night attorney general Herbert Slatery himself issued a statement highly critical of the Chancellor Lyle’s decision.
“It is yet another court decision replacing legislation passed by the people’s elected officials with its own judgment, largely ignoring the practicalities of implementing such a decision, and doing so in the midst of a pandemic and budget crisis,” said the attorney general.
But ACLU legal director Tom Castelli, who was involved in one of two cases filed about the issue, said these are not normal times.
“Why 45 other states have made this move, several during the pandemic, to address the pandemic, and Tennessee didn’t want to do that, I can’t tell you,” Castelli said.
The state’s attorney general’s office said they will likely appeal, and stated their election plan had already “conformed to the CDC guidelines” and the court ruling “risks voter confusion, voter fraud and election disruption.”
House Democrats disagree.
“This was strictly about keeping people safe,” Lamar said.
Local election officials were already preparing for an uptick in absentee ballots due to COVID from those over 60 or ill.
Shelby County’s election administrator wouldn’t agree to an interview, but said, “We want all registered voters to vote, whether it is in person or by mail.”
An appeal is likely, but as of now, you can vote by mail.
The Shelby County ballot hasn’t been approved yet. Election officials say that won’t likely happen until the middle of the month.