NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennessee officials on Friday sought an appeal and an immediate pause to a court’s ruling this week that makes all of the state’s 4.1 million registered voters eligible to vote by mail during to the coronavirus pandemic.
The state attorney general’s office filed the request in Davidson County Chancery Court to appeal and stay that court’s temporary injunction that expanded absentee eligibility Thursday.
The state argued the ruling will impose a hefty financial burden on the state and counties, put election integrity at risk with the quick turnaround, and create further voter confusion.
“Indeed, in the immediate wake of the June 4 injunction, voters are already reaching out to county election offices seeking guidance about absentee voting,” the state’s filing says. “But what happens if a voter applies for an absentee ballot based upon fear of COVID-19 and the temporary injunction that permits such an application is later reversed?”
The request was filed hours after Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins emailed local election officials Friday, telling them not to send absentee voting applications for people citing illness or COVID-19 as a reason. He wrote that the state may be revising its application form and noted the state’s plan to appeal and seek an immediate stop to the expansion while the appeal proceeds.
Goins wrote that those seeking to vote by mail for other valid reasons, including all voters 60 or older, can still be sent applications.
The guidance drew criticisms claiming obstruction and defiance of a judge order. Goins, meanwhile, said the state’s direction allows requests related to COVID-19 to be maintained and “processed in compliance with the trial court order and any further orders in the case.”
The state’s filing Friday also points out that Texas has been blocked pending appeal from implementing an expansion of mail voting, after a federal court last month ruled all 16 million registered voters in the state must be given the option of voting by mail during the pandemic.
Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled Thursday that Tennessee’s limits on absentee voting during the pandemic constitute “an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.”
Eleven other states have relaxed voting by mail restrictions for the 2020 election, while two-thirds of states have allowed vote by mail for everyone for years, the judge wrote.
The decision upended 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. Instead, state election officials have recommended preparations as though all 1.4 million registered voters 60 and older – about 1 of every 3 registered voters – will cast mail-in ballots in the Aug. 6 primary.
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