COVID-related eligibility remains for Tennessee mail voting
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s eligibility to vote by mail still includes people who are more susceptible to COVID-19, their caretakers and their housemates — a specification that emerged during a prolonged 2020 court battle.
The eligibility remains on the absentee application and the secretary of state’s website, past the height of the pandemic. The secretary of state’s office confirmed this week that the option will stay in place for the Nov. 8 election.
Meanwhile, first-time voters in Tennessee do need to appear in person to vote or show ID at the local election office before voting by mail, if they qualify. A federal judge had blocked the requirement for the 2020 general election amid the pandemic, but an appeals court reinstated it in 2021.
The deadline to submit an application to vote by mail is Nov. 1. Completed absentee ballots must be mailed in time for the county election commission to receive it no later than the close of polls on Election Day.
In-person early voting is also underway in Tennessee, and the 14-day period runs Mondays to Saturdays until Nov. 3.
While overseeing two lawsuits on Tennessee’s mail voting restrictions, a trial court judge in June 2020 ruled in favor of a wide expansion of absentee voting during the pandemic, which was in place during the August 2020 primary election.
The state Supreme Court ultimately ruled in the state’s favor to restore Tennessee’s excuse-based criteria, but only after the state changed course to promise to allow people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications and their caretakers to vote by mail. The trial court judge later expanded that to include housemates, ruling the state had included them in its promise to the Supreme Court.
The courthouse back-and-forth prompted a failed effort from some Republican lawmakers to remove the trial court judge, Ellen Hobbs Lyle in Nashville, from office. She later decided not to seek reelection. Instead, lawmakers changed how constitutional challenges of state laws and policies are heard, opting for a new three-judge panel system that generally includes two of the three judges outside of Nashville.
The fallout came after a 2020 election cycle in which many states expanded access to absentee balloting or other voting methods because of concerns about the coronavirus spreading at crowded Election Day polling places, despite arguments by former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies that any expansions should have legislative approval.
Trump is still repeating unfounded claims of absentee voting election fraud.