NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court has overturned the option for all eligible voters to vote by mail in November due to COVID-19.
Wednesday's ruling nixes a June expansion order by a lower court that state election officials opposed.
The decision was made on the same day voters could begin requesting absentee ballots for the general election.
The fear of contracting COVID-19 will not be enough of a reason to request an absentee by-mail ballot. The decision restores Tennessee’s excuse-based system for November, with COVID-19 related additions that include underlying health conditions for voters and those in their care.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in a statement, “I appreciate the Tennessee Supreme Court agreeing with our analysis of Tennessee election law. I am also grateful for the excellent representation provided by the Office of the Attorney General.”
The executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, Hedy Weinberg, said the decision is positive but does not go far enough to protect all Tennesseans.
“Today’s decision ensures that Tennessee voters with underlying health conditions and their caretakers can access the ballot box safely. However, we are troubled that the court did not expand the use of mail-in ballots so that all Tennessee voters could decide how to best cast their ballot to protect their health and safety,” Weinberg said in a press release.
It will be left up to the state to provide the “appropriate guidance” to voters regarding what underlying health conditions will qualify for a mail-in ballot, which was first discussed by the state during oral arguments last week.
The justices wrote the decision doesn't impact ballots for Thursday's primary. Only a handful of states are not offering by-mail voting for everyone during the pandemic, though two-thirds of states allowed the practice before it.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini released the following statement in response to the decision:
“The goal of every elected official in Tennessee should be to ensure that every citizen, regardless of party affiliation, is able to safely and securely cast their ballot and fully participate in our democracy. This is a fundamental principle and a core value we should all share.
Given that Republican politicians have for years enacted policy that intentionally suppresses the vote and limits access to the ballot box, and considering the job of the Tennessee Supreme Court is to interpret the law, their ruling is not a shock.
The Republican Party's unyielding campaign of voter suppression has always sowed confusion and placed obstacles in the path of voters. But now, during this dangerous health crisis, there are deadly consequences for the people they have sworn to serve.”