Tennessee Court Rules to Give All Registered Voters Mail-In Ballot Option Amid Pandemic

June 5, 2020 Updated: June 5, 2020

A Tennessee court ruled Thursday that the state must give all registered voters the option to cast ballots by mail amid the pandemic.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that Tennessee’s current “restrictive” limits on absentee voting during the pandemic constitute “an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.”

Outside the ruling, voters in Tennessee would normally have to justify not voting in person and only certain categories of voters—such as seniors and the disabled—are eligible to cast ballots by mail.

The judicial decision, which includes a temporary injunction, only applies to elections this year and may be appealed.

State attorneys earlier argued that allowing no-excuse absentee balloting was not feasible, citing concerns that include lack of funding, as well as shortages of equipment and staff.

Lyle disagreed, writing in the ruling that “the evidence does not support” the claim that it is “impossible” to provide expanded access to vote-by-mail options.

California voter completes ballot.
Voter completes her ballot in Orange County Calif., on Oct. 24, 2018. (Robyn Beck / AFP)

The Republican-led Legislature and GOP Gov. Bill Lee have dismissed the idea of offering absentee ballots to all 4.1 million registered voters in Tennessee, with lawmakers voting against Democratic expansion proposals multiple times.

Rather than giving all voters a no-excuse mail-in ballot option, state election officials have recommended a pared-down version that would see preparations made for 1.4 million registered voters over 60 years old to cast their vote by mail.

The drive to expand vote-by-mail options during the pandemic has emerged as the centerpiece of a growing political fight ahead of November’s election.

President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers have challenged the idea of expanding mail balloting, arguing it is vulnerable to fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups say it is a way to protect voters from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus. They say a failure to guarantee that option amid a pandemic will disenfranchise millions of Americans.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has long raised the alarm about the dangers of mail-in ballot fraud.

“Absentee ballots are the tools of choice of election fraudsters because they are voted outside the supervision of election officials, making it easier to steal, forge, or alter them, as well as to intimidate voters,” wrote Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow Hans A. von Spakovsky, in an op-ed.

The Heritage Foundation’s own database of all reported instances of election fraud, dating back to 1979, lists only 1,277 “proven instances of voter fraud,” though the organization’s Communications Manager told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that “the database is only intended to represent a small sampling of the types of voter fraud that can occur—it is by no means a comprehensive report of all the voter fraud that happens around the country.”

A number of states have softened vote-by-mail restrictions amid the pandemic.

“In this time of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and its contagion in gatherings of people, almost all states—both Republican and Democrat—are providing their citizens the health protection of a voting by mail option,” Lyle wrote in the ruling.

“This includes southern states such as Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas, and Tennessee‘s neighboring state of Kentucky and nearby West Virginia. The governors, state officials and legislators in those states have spearheaded efforts to expand access to voting by mail to protect the health of their citizens during the pandemic,” she wrote.

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