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Tennessee Accused of Violating Court Order to Expand Vote-By-Mail to All Citizens

Government officials in Tennessee are refusing to comply with a court order which directs the state to allow any registered voter to apply for a ballot to vote by mail due to the ongoing pandemic. That’s according to a contempt motion filed in Nashville Chancery Court on Tuesday.

Last week, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that the state was required to allow all 4.1 million registered voters the opportunity to cast a mail ballot, reasoning that the restrictions constituted an “unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.”

The decision – which remains in effect “until modified or dissolved” or until a decision is made on a permanent injunction – required the state permit voters to obtain mail ballots by checking “the already existing box on the absentee ballot application that states that the person is hospitalized, ill or physically disabled.”

However, government officials have instead unilaterally created a new “COVID-19”-related line on the absentee ballot request form and are directing voters who seek to vote absentee to use that line.

Additionally, in anticipation of appealing the ruling to the state’s more conservative appellate courts, government officials instructed employees not to process absentee ballot request applications which cite to the pandemic or other illnesses.

The motion, filed by the ACLU on behalf of the plaintiffs, argued that the government’s actions directly contravened the court’s order and will have the effect of “intimidating, confusing, and disenfranchising those choosing to vote by absentee ballot” because of health concerns.

The motion also pointed to an email sent by State Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins the day after the court’s decision telling employees to “hold off on sending absentee applications to voters who are requesting them for illness or COVID-19.”

“If a voter asks for an application because of COVID-19, go ahead and take their information so you can send them a form later with the revised language if we update the form or a stay is not granted,” the email concluded.”

The motion also asked the court to sanction the state for “willfully” violating the order and to direct officials to begin immediately complying with the terms of the ruling.

“This unilateral disregard of the Court’s Order is designed to place increased scrutiny on voters who wish to do nothing more than to rely on this Court’s Order, lead to voter confusion and intimidation, and enable the state to segregate these voters’ absentee ballot requests and refrain from processing them,” the motion stated.

“The State has made calculated decisions to act contrary to the plain text of the Order and has instructed county election officials to do the same.”

Read the full motion below.

ACLU Absentee Voting Motion by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via via-Joe Raedle_Getty-Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.