NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office says it plans to appeal a ruling from a Nashville judge that allows absentee ballots for every voter if they want one.
The ruling late Thursday is a potentially major change affecting millions of Tennessee voters and a quick turnaround for election officials statewide.
In a video conference Wednesday, Nashville Chancery Court Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle heard arguments brought by the American Civil Liberties Union about making absentee ballots available for all Tennessean voters because of COVID-19 concerns.
On Friday, Tennessee House Democrats applauded her late Thursday decision.
“At this time of the pandemic, every Tennessean needs the right to choose to vote by mail,” said House Democrat Caucus Chair Mike Stewart.
Through a spokesperson, the state Attorney General’s Office, which defends laws passed by Tennessee legislators, says it will appeal.
Thursday night, Attorney General Herbert Slatery himself issued a statement highly critical of the Chancellor Lyle’s decision.
“It is yet another court decision replacing legislation passed by the people’s elected officials with its own judgment, largely ignoring the practicalities of implementing such a decision, and doing so in the midst of a pandemic and budget crisis,” said Slatery.
The ruling comes after another Nashville court judge ruled last month that Governor Bill Lee’s voucher (Education Savings Account) plan for Nashville and Memphis was unconstitutional.
Because the case won’t be heard on appeal until early August and the Tennessee Supreme Court said this week it would not get involved before then, Governor Lee said Friday it’s his expectation that funds for the voucher plan would not be included in the upcoming fiscal 2021 state budget, except for administrative costs.
While making those comments, the governor also addressed the absentee ballot decision by the Nashville judge.
He and his administration expanded absentee voting because of COVID-19 for those over 60-years-old earlier this spring but there has not been support of doing more.
“I don’t think in my view that there is a need to expand excuse voting, absentee voting,” said Governor Lee on Friday.
Requests for absentee ballots are up in places like Nashville. As of Thursday, election officials there say 8,585 absentee ballot requests had been processed for the August statewide primary with several more weeks before a deadline.
By comparison, there were 7,200 absentee ballots processed for the 2016 presidential election.