An important suit has been filed in Chancery Court in Nashville, seeking, in the words of its title page, “to expand access to vote-by-mail procedures to all registered Tennessee voters who wish to vote absentee during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The suit is filed on behalf of plaintiffs Hunter Dempster, Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Julia Hiltonsmith, Ginger Bullard, Jeff Bullard, and Allison Donald, "all currently registered Tennessee voters, including both Democrats and Republicans," with the defendants being Governor Bill Lee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, state Director of Elections Mark Goins, and state Attorney General Herbert Slatery III.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs are Steve Mulroy and Jake Brown.
The suit seeks to transcend both the narrow definitions of who may seek to vote absentee (currently restricted by such factors as hospitalization, school residence, and absence from one’s home base) and the time frame for filing for such status, expressed this way in current state law: “A voter who desires to vote absentee shall request an absentee ballot not more than ninety (90) and not later than seven (7) days before the election.”
In the language of the suit:
“Plaintiffs contend that, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and the uncertain but growing population distribution of the novel coronavirus (the “Virus”), restricting Tennesseans’ vote-by-mail access to voters over sixty years of age, or who otherwise meet one of the other absentee-ballot qualifications enumerated under Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-6-201, would impose impermissibly burdensome conditions on the Individual Plaintiffs and others’ right to vote under the Tennessee Constitution … .
“[E]ach of the Individual Plaintiffs has an objectively reasonable fear that voting in person in the 2020 Tennessee elections would endanger his or her personal health and the health of those sharing these voters’ households, by exposure to the Virus. Each is also concerned about the extent to which his or her appearance at a crowded polling location may contribute to the community spread of the Virus. They sue on behalf of themselves and all similarly situated Tennessee voters who are currently ineligible to vote by mail.”
Several states already extend universal rights to vote by mail to their citizens, including Ohio, whose Republican government has recently successfully concluded a statewide election under those conditions.