NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Tennessee judge has ruled that Democratic officials improperly filed a public records request while seeking last-minute information on voters who have requested an absentee ballot but haven’t returned them yet.
Tennessee’s Democratic Party and the campaign of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw had filed a lawsuit over the weekend accusing state election officials of refusing to release the ballot information as required by state law.
In Monday morning’s hearing, attorneys representing Bradshaw’s campaign argued that Tennessee law makes it so records on absentee ballots are subject to open records requests after the early voting period.
Campaign officials say they turned in their request the day after, but never made it clear if this request was sent to the state or only certain counties. During Monday’s hearing, we learned Bradshaw’s campaign sought to find the absentee information from Davidson, Shelby, Knox, Madison and Washington Counties. None of which had their election commission offices named in the lawsuit.
Instead, the plaintiffs in this case named coordinator of elections Mark Goins and Tennessee secretary of state Tre Hargett as the keepers of the information they requested from each county.
The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office is calling it a distraction, but also says they never got any public records request. Even if they did, they wouldn’t have this information readily available.
Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal in her eight-page ruling found that there was not enough evidence that Democratic officials sent a proper public records requests to the state’s elections office. She continues to say that without the proper records request filed, it’s impractical to expect state and county election officials to furnish this data without “the threat of immediate or irreparable harm.”
In the home stretch of her Tennessee campaign tour, Bradshaw gathered a group in Southeast Nashville on Monday, to endorse candidates for state representative Mariah Phillips and Brandon Thomas.
Still hours before Moskal’s decision and when asked about the lawsuit, Bradshaw said, “this is the fight for the soul of America. Our representative democracy is built on a foundation of our voters being able to vote freely and that’s what I will do. I will protect democracy and I will bring Americans together.”
In one of the most talked about elections in Tennessee, Bradshaw says she wants no votes left behind.
“We are not going to tolerate voter suppression because it’s going to be too big to rig,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw faces Republican candidate Bill Hagerty to take over the senate seat of retiring Republican Lamar Alexander.
Ken Taylor, Bradshaw's campaign manager, released the following statement Tuesday morning:
“The judge’s ruling yesterday made one thing very clear: the information we seek is public and should be made available to us. Within hours of the ruling, Shelby County election officials provided this information to us. In fact, the only county that has not yet complied with our request is Metro Nashville. To deny our ability to reach out to these voters and let them know their options for casting a ballot is a form of voter suppression. While we hope to work with Metro Nashville officials to rectify this situation, our lawyers are prepared to take further action, if needed.”