A Nashville judge has ruled that the state must provide all registered voters the option to vote by mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the state’s decision not to offer absentee ballots to those fearful of being exposed to the virus posed an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote. 

The order, which is subject to appeal, mandates the state government to temporarily strip back existing absentee ballot restrictions through the pandemic, and to “prominently post on their websites and disseminate to County Election Officials that voters who do not wish to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 virus situation are eligible to request an absentee ballot by mail or that such voters still have the option to vote in-person during Early voting or on Election Day.”

The state argued expanding the use of mail-in ballots to all 4.1 million registered voters in Tennessee would be nearly impossible due to lack of funding, personnel and equipment, and say they fear higher risks of voter fraud — a fear many experts say is unsubstantiated. 

“The state’s position is unapologetic,” Davidson County chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle wrote in the order. “It claims that unlike the can-do approach of two-thirds of the U.S. States who have for years allowed any voter to vote by mail and eleven more states that have relaxed voting by mail restrictions for the 2020 elections due to the pandemic, it is impossible for the State of Tennessee, in a state of emergency, to expand access to voting by mail on a temporary basis.” 

Lyle also noted the state relied on “oddly skewed” assumptions about voter turnout and behavior that didn’t align with data provided to her on the issue. 

“The State’s justifications, for not providing an expansion of voting by mail during the pandemic, are not reasonable, necessary and/or do not exist,” she wrote.

This post originally appeared in our sister publication, the Nashville Post

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