The Tennessee Supreme Court building in Nashville, Tenn.
(The Center Square) – The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled fear of contracting the coronavirus will not be an excuse to vote absentee in November.
Absentee ballots already submitted to vote in Thursday’s primary will remain valid.
“Recognizing that absentee ballots already have been cast for the August 6, 2020 election consistent with the trial court’s temporary injunction, and mindful of the goal of avoiding alterations to election rules on the eve of an election, the absentee ballots of all Tennessee registered voters who timely requested and submitted an absentee ballot by mail for the August 6, 2020 election … shall be duly counted,” the opinion, issued Wednesday, read.
Tennessee law provides for absentee voting in 14 scenarios, including hospitalization, illness and physical disability. Caretakers of the ill, hospitalized, and disabled voters aged 60 or older and residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities also are already allowed to vote by mail.
In arguments before the state Supreme Court last week, attorneys for the state clarified that, consistent with federal health recommendations, the state includes individuals diagnosed or tested positive for coronavirus, those exposed to someone with coronavirus and recommended to quarantine as eligible to vote by mail-in ballot under the already existing absentee voting excuses.
“The state has construed ‘ill’ to include someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19, or someone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19,” Janet Kleinfelter of the attorney general’s office argued Thursday. “That is reflected in the state’s election plan.”
In June, a Nashville judge ordered the state must provide all eligible voters with absentee ballots for the 2020 primary and general election if they determine it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This Supreme Court opinion reverses that ruling.
“I appreciate the Tennessee Supreme Court agreeing with our analysis of Tennessee election law,” Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, tweeted Wednesday evening. “I am also grateful for the excellent representation provided by the Office of the [Tennessee attorney general].”