“State shifts position on COVID-19 and absentee voting in arguments before Tennessee Supreme Court”

TN law permits absentee voting only for one of 12 specified reasons. A lower court held, as a matter of state constitutional law, that no-excuse absentee voting was required, given Covid-19. The case was argued yesterday before the TN Supreme Court, and the Nashville Tennessean has this interesting account of the argument (I really like being able to post articles from local papers):

Throughout her opening remarks, Janet Kleinfelter, the attorney for the state, was asked questions by the five justices as she argued the lower court had erred in its ruling. At one point, Justice Sharon Lee seemed frustrated while pressing Kleinfelter on the state’s position that voters with underlying health issues or those living with people with such conditions would be allowed to vote absentee.

As Kleinfelter attempted to answer, Lee repeatedly reiterated her question.

“If the voter has made that decision, then yes, they may vote absentee,” Kleinfelter said. Lee asked Kleinfelter whether the state would communicate the point to voters, noting earlier such information was not clear on absentee ballot applications.

Kleinfelter’s comments seem to contradict previous interpretations by the state, possibly marking a shift in the state’s position. 

“In consultation with the attorney general’s office, the fear of getting ill does not fall under the definition of ill,” Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told The Associated Press in mid-May. 

On Thursday, Kleinfelter’s remarks to Lee’s questioning indicate the state’s interpretation of state law is slightly different than Goins’ previous statement.

The revised interpretation, based on her remarks to the court, would not block people with underlying health conditions from determining for themselves that fear of COVID-19 was a valid reason to apply for an absentee ballot. Kleinfelter said the same was true for those who care for people with underlying health conditions. 

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