Tennessee makes mail voting form changes ordered by judge

By JONATHAN MATTISE Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee election officials on Thursday made changes to the absentee voting application, a move ordered when a judge scolded them for making their own edits after she required a universal mail-in voting option during the coronavirus pandemic.

Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett's website and the vote-by-mail application were amended the same day Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ordered the change.

While ruling in favor of the absentee voting expansion last Thursday, the judge initially ordered that the newly eligible by-mail voters could pick an existing box to explain the necessity of voting by mail due to illness, hospitalization or disability. But the state told local election officials last Friday to wait until new applications could be created to add wording about COVID-19 before sending forms to people seeking to vote by mail due to COVID-19 or illness. The state told local officials to start using the new form that evening.

Lyle said the state disobeyed her order, and ordered officials Thursday to remove the new category and update two existing categories with wording about COVID-19 to help clear up confusion she said the state had created. The judge made the actions and new instructions to local election officials due Friday.

In the new court-required guidance Friday, Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told his local counterparts to use the revised form or update their own, send applications to "any voter who requests such form," and "process all timely received absentee ballot applications in accordance with Tennessee election laws and to provide an absentee ballot to any eligible voter."

He also cites the judge's order to "provide any eligible Tennessee voter, who applies to vote by mail in order to avoid transmission or contraction of COVID-19, an absentee ballot in (the) upcoming elections."

Lyle said she did not want a new category created on the form, saying it segregated voters seeking to cast absentee ballots because of concerns over catching or spreading COVID-19 at the polls from other voters.

The state is hoping for a higher court to pause the absentee expansion pending appeal.

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