Judge says state must make absentee voting available to eligible Tennessee residents

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — UPDATE: (4:10 p.m.) A Tennessee judge 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 said they 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 argued 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.

Thursday, 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. Friday.

“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 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.

Case details: https://www.aclu.org/cases/lay-v-goins

The American Civil Liberties Union announced it will be back in court Thursday asking a judge to find that Tennessee violated the June 4 court ruling ordering the state to make absentee voting available to every eligible voter for all elections in 2020.

The ACLU legal team filed a motion with the court June 8 noting the state is directly violating the court’s order by explicitly instructing local elections officials to refrain from sending out absentee ballots to people who request them due to COVID-19 concerns, according to a press release.

The motion asked the court to order Tennessee to comply with the ruling, and to impose sanctions for its violations.

Today’s hearing will address this motion.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Tennessee, and Dechert LLP will present arguments remotely to the Chancery Court/Davidson County in Nashville.

The hearing is scheduled for noon CST.

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, according to the press release.