TN Supreme Court ruling limits who can request absentee ballot for November amid pandemic

Watch: TN Supreme Court ruling limits who can request absentee ballot for November amid pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County just wrapped up its first election during the COVID-19 pandemic

Between early voting and Election day, more than 87,000 people voted in-person.

The Shelby County Election Commission said the polls were a little slower on Election Day partially because more people request absentee ballots. On Thursday, election staff process 16,941 absentee ballots which is almost 20 times the normal number of requests.

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But this process will change for the November election.

On the eve of Election Day, the Tennessee Supreme Court limited who is eligible to request an absentee ballot moving forward.

In the ruling, the court said individuals with an underlying condition that puts them at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 or anyone who is a caretaker for someone with the virus or those conditions can request an absentee ballot.

“From a public health perspective, this is very disappointing it should really be the case that everybody should vote absentee or be able to choose absentee,” said Steve Mulroy, University of Memphis law professor.

Mulroy is one of the attorneys on this case. He said the ruling is a partial victory because there are many medical conditions that fall under this category.

“Not only heart and lung conditions but also asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking are all indicated as placing people at higher risk,” he said.

But some voters like Geneva Johnson support the ruling. She’s a caretaker who voted absentee in this election.

“I think they should still keep it for those underlying problems and not just let any and everybody do it because that way it can be a little bit more controlled,” said Johnson.

Similar to this election, Mulroy believes even healthy people who are concerned about COVID-19 should be able to get an absentee ballot.

“The undisputed medical testimony in our case was that everyone had a medical risk is being forced to vote in person indoors not just people with underlying conditions,” said Mulroy. “All the health experts will tell you that there’s also a risk of even healthy people picking up the virus and transmitting it to others who are vulnerable as they leave the voting place.”

The Shelby County Election Commission recently bought four new scanners that sped up how quickly they could process the major influx in absentee ballots.

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