The Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus called for no-excuse absentee voting in a recent letter to Gov. Bill Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett.
The letter asks Lee and Hargett to protect voters from the coronavirus by allowing any Tennessean to vote absentee and expanding early voting options.
“Unfortunately, the right of every Tennessean to participate equally and freely in our state and federal elections – without exposing themselves to the coronavirus – is in jeopardy. Therefore we are writing you today urging extraordinary measures be implemented to safeguard voting for our upcoming elections,” states the letter.
According to the letter, Tennessee allows residents to vote by mail only if they satisfy one of 14 reasons, none of which include a pandemic. A lawsuit filed against Hargett on Friday claims that Tennessee is one of just seven states that haven’t loosened requirements for voting absentee in response to the coronavirus.
“Administering fair, accessible elections during a pandemic is new territory. But we do not have to choose between public health and a functioning democracy,” the caucus writes in its letter. “We have the resources, ability and time to ensure everyone can register, cast a ballot and have their vote counted – without compromising their health.”
In-person voting for Tennessee’s August state primary is scheduled to begin on July 17 and Democrats said every precinct should be approved by a county health official.
“To show voters our commitment to their health and safety, state election officials, in conjunction with the governor’s office, should require that every voting precinct be reviewed and approved by a local or regional health department,” the letter continues. “Health department officials should direct election commissions on the appropriateness of precinct venues, setup and additional measures to prevent virus transmission.”
Some election commissions across the state are reportedly planning to consolidate voting precincts for this year’s elections, but Senate Democrats called this plan “the exact opposite of social distancing.”
“Combining polling locations, at face value, reduces access to voting and increases the number of voters in a single place,” the letter states. “If promoting physical distance and reducing the spread of a highly contagious virus are our shared goals, the state should be providing science-based guidance to local election officials against any counterproductive measures.”
Nationally, Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill that would require every state in the nation to allows its residents to vote by mail during the 2020 election.
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