Democrats in Middle Tennessee, noting the continuing presence of the COVID-19 virus in the state, called on Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Friday to temporarily open the vote-by-mail process to all Tennesseans without requiring an excuse.
The request was generated initially through a unanimous vote of the executive committee of the Williamson County Democratic Party but was not presented as a partisan issue.
“This is not a ‘red state, blue state’ issue,” said Kelly Baker-Hefley, the chair of the Williamson County Democratic Party. “This is a matter of public safety. More than 70 people were infected with COVID-19 after voting or working the polls in Wisconsin in April. No voter should be forced to choose between their health and their voice in our democracy.”
Across the country, 29 states already allow any voter to request an absentee mail-in ballot without preconditions. Another five states conduct their elections entirely by mail.
Tennessee is one of only 16 states that require voters to have a “qualifying excuse” to obtain an absentee ballot, including having a doctor certify that a voter is medically unable to vote in person.
Last month, Tennessee’s attorney general ruled that “fear of becoming ill or infecting others” did not qualify as an excuse to obtain a mail-in ballot. While several lawsuits have been filed over the issue, Baker-Hefley argued it is well within the governor’s executive authority to suspend the voting law’s requirements and allow no-excuse by-mail voting.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic that prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency in March and now has killed more than 350 Tennesseans,” she added. “Moving to authorize absentee (by-mail) voting on demand for the remainder of the 2020 election season would be another responsible gubernatorial step to prevent a substantial risk to public health.
“Safe, accessible elections are the underpinnings of democracy and no voter should be forced to choose between their health and their voice. Tennessee ranks 49th in the nation for voter turnout and that’s not going to improve if residents are afraid for their lives.”
Baker-Hefley said the Williamson County Democratic Party has asked the seven mayors in the county to support the plea to Lee.