Judge rules TN violated vote-by-mail order; requires absentee ballots for eligible voters

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Posted at 4:42 PM, Jun 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-11 17:42:31-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Tennessee judge ordered the state must make absentee voting available to every eligible voter for all 2020 elections due to 2020.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled the state must comply with the June 4 order and instructed the state to fix its absentee voting request form by 5 p.m. Friday.

Chancellor Lyle said she was seeking “to clean up confusion” by ordering changes to how the state decided to reword its absentee voting applications.

She stopped short of ordering sanctions against the state for not complying, citing tough budget times for the state during the pandemic. But she warned of the “specter of criminal contempt” if officials didn't comply going forward.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee, and Dechert LLP filed a lawsuit seeking to make absentee voting available to all eligible Tennessee voters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They argued that the state violated the June 4 order by explicitly instructing local elections officials to refrain from sending out absentee ballots to people who request them due to COVID-19 concerns.

“The judge recognized the gravity of the state’s failure to comply with the order to make absentee ballots available to all eligible voters during COVID-19. Once again, the courts have recognized that no one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The case was brought on behalf of several Tennesseans whose health would be at risk if forced to vote in person while COVID-19 is spreading.

“The court could not have been any clearer today: the state needs to make absentee voting available to every eligible voter for all elections in 2020,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU of Tennessee legal director. “People should not have to gamble with their health to participate in our democracy.”

*Editor's Note: The Associated Press contributed to this article.