Court Rules Tennessee in Violation of Order Requiring Absentee Ballots for All Eligible Voters in 2020

June 11, 2020 4:15 pm

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee judge has ordered the state to comply with a June 4 ruling that required it to make absentee voting available to every eligible voter for all elections in 2020 due to COVID-19.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Tennessee, and Dechert LLP had successfully brought the challenge so Tennesseans could protect their health and participate in their democracy during the highly contagious and deadly COVID-19 crisis.

The groups were back in court today, however, arguing the state was in direct violation of that ruling by explicitly instructing local elections officials to refrain from sending out absentee ballots to people who request them due to COVID-19 concerns. The ACLU had learned that, while the state had updated its forms and online guidance to appear as though people can request absentee ballots due to COVID-19, the state was segregating those requests.

In a ruling from the bench, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle said the state must comply with the court’s order and instructed the state to fix its absentee voting request form by 5 p.m. tomorrow.

“The judge recognized the gravity of the state’s failure to comply with the order to make absentee ballots available to all eligible voters during COVID-19. Once again, the courts have recognized that no one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The case was brought on behalf of several Tennesseans whose health would be at risk if forced to vote in person while COVID-19 is spreading.

“The court could not have been any clearer today: the state needs to make absentee voting available to every eligible voter for all elections in 2020,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU of Tennessee legal director. “People should not have to gamble with their health to participate in our democracy.”

The lawsuit, Lay v. Goins, was filed in Chancery Court/Davidson County in Nashville, Tennessee.


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