Lawsuit seeks to ensure voters can vote safely by mail in the upcoming elections and ensure ballots count
For Immediate Release
May 1, 2020
In the midst of a global pandemic, The Equity Alliance, in partnership with Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of two qualified voters and organizations whose many members are not eligible for vote by mail under current law, but wish to avoid exposing themselves or elderly family members to coronavirus.
Other plaintiffs include five organizations facing restrictions preventing them from carrying out necessary voter engagement activities for their members and the community in 2020. Under Tennessee law, the organizations can be punished for giving voters unsolicited requests for an absentee ballot with up to 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
Typically, Tennesseans have cast their ballots largely in person. Recently, the rapid shift towards voting by mail has revealed how unprepared Tennessee is to ensure all absentee ballots are counted in the upcoming elections. The state gives election officials discretion to reject absentee ballots when elections officials decide, in their judgment, that the voter’s signature on their ballot doesn’t match the voter’s signature on file with the voter registration. This “matching” process is unreliable and prone to mistakes, and because the state does not give voters any opportunity to fix apparent problems with their ballot, leads to disenfranchisement.
The following statement is from The Equity Alliance Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director Charlane Oliver on A. Phillip Randolph Institute v. Hargett. The Equity Alliance is an organizational plaintiff in the suit.
“Tennessee voters should not be forced to choose between their own personal safety and participating in our democratic process. Our state needs to adapt to the current environment brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our organization wants to be able to proactively assist voters with voting by absentee ballot without the threat of criminal prosecution. We are in unprecedented circumstances that call for state officials to implement safer and secure approaches t ensure democracy is preserved in the Volunteer State.”