Mail-in vote option under fire, state battling issue in appeals court

Published 12:27 pm Friday, June 26, 2020

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The ruling to expand the voter mail-in option to all registered voters has netted major repercussions as state officials scramble to appeal the decision.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle handed down her decision earlier in June as a way to offer all voters the opportunity to have their voices heard at the polls despite the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on June 24 that it would not block the Chancellor’s ruling. The high court did agree, however, to bypass the need for a lower appellate court decision so as to hurry along the appeals process.

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State election officials are opposing the expansion in favor of stepping up preparations in case more voters age 60 years and older decide to use the mail-in option. If every person in the category were to go that route, it would equate to about 1.4 million mail-in ballots being counted.

The state claims significant hardships would be placed on local polling sites and the various county election offices if the expansion was ordered.

It’s just not feasible for the Aug. 6, 2020 election due to the lack of money, personnel and equipment, state officials claim.

The Supreme Court ruling allows voters to choose their best option while the appellate court decides the issue. The decision by the Supreme Court not to block the expansion outright was explained in its decision.

“…a majority of the court finds that the state has not met its burden of demonstrating that the balance of the relevant factors weighs in favor of a stay pending appeal,” reads the decision, in part.

One week after Chancellor Lyle’s ruling, she admonished the state officials in a highly publicized shaming when she learned her dictates had not been immediately followed.

Apparently, the state officials had taken upon themselves the task of rewording the absentee voting applications. It looks as though the officials also took their time sending out the applications directly following the chancellor’s ruling.

According to the Associated Press, the state has since reworked the form and sent local officials updated guidance based on Lyle’s new orders.

At the local level, it is too early to tell if the expansion would create a hardship for the Claiborne County Election Office.

“At this point, we’ve not seen a huge request for absentee ballots. We’ve received the normal number of applications for an election of this kind,” said Carolyn O’Dell, administrator of elections. “If there is a significant increase, we will make provisions for extra equipment to count the ballots.”

Right now, there are no plans to hire additional personnel. Of course, that could change once the decision is handed down from the state level.

Those interested in applying for absentee ballots may do so through July 30.