Tennessee: Talks start over new Shelby County voting system compromise | Bill Dries/Daily Memphian

Two months after the Shelby County Election Commission approved a possible lawsuit against the County Commission over new voting machines, no lawsuit has been filed and both sides in the dispute are talking. “The talks are very preliminary,” Shelby County Election Commission Chairman Brent Taylor said on The Daily Memphian Politics Podcast. Taylor also discussed during the podcast changes to the election process considered by the Tennessee General Assembly. The podcast also includes an interview with Memphis Police Chief nominee Cerelyn ‘CJ’ Davis. “Right now, we are in discussions about trying to meet so we can discuss the contract and find out if there is any compromise,” Taylor said of the possible lawsuit. “Any way that we can come together and make sure that we balance the needs of the Election Commission with those of the County Commission.” The County Commission rejected this past October a $5.8 million contract approved by the Election Commission for a new voting system featuring updated touch screen voting machines and a paper readout of a voter’s selections. That system would allow the ballot to be put through a digital scanner and would then put the paper record in a sealed ballot box.

Full Article: Talks start over new voting system compromise – Memphis Local, Sports, Business & Food News | Daily Memphian

Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission to sue over voting equipment funds | Laura Testino/Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Shelby County Election Commission intends to file suit against the county commission over funding it says it needs for new voting equipment. Election commissioners met in an executive session with attorneys about the matter Tuesday, according to a release from the election commission. “The County Commission has repeatedly denied our requests to fund the ballot marking devices, because they want paper ballots,” Steve Stamson, chairman of the election commissioners, said in a statement. He said the election commission attempted to put the funding measure back on a county commission agenda for January, but that the request was denied. Although a filing date was not discussed during the session, the suit is likely to be filed in a local court within the next 30 days, Suzanne Thompson, spokesperson for the election commission, said by phone. The ultimate filing date is up to attorney Allan Wade, she said. Wade, of The Wade Law Firm, will represent the election commission. Election commissioners say the need for funding for the new equipment is urgent. The vendor that supports the voting machines that are currently in use, the commissioners say, is stopping service at the end of the year. Funding was denied in 2020, ahead of the Nov. 3 election, as county commissioners raised questions about the bidding process for the proposed machines. 

Full Article: Shelby County Election Commission to sue over voting equipment funds

Tennessee congressman introducing resolution to abolish Electoral College | WMC

Representative Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, announced Friday plans to introduce a resolution to abolish the Electoral College saying the presidency should be decided by the popular vote. The congressman is Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. He introduced a joint resolution calling for an end to the Electoral College at the beginning of the previous Congress in 2019. A news release from his office calls the Electoral College an “archaic institution” that has in the last two decades twice given the White House to a candidate who did not win the popular vote, “defeating the will of the American people.” “The Americans expect and deserve the winner of the popular vote to win office,” reads a statement from the congressman. “More than a century ago, we amended our Constitution to provide for the direct election of U.S. Senators. It is past time to directly elect our President and Vice President. The Electoral College is a vestige of the 18th Century when voters didn’t know the candidates who now appear daily on their television screens. Wednesday’s mayhem at the Capitol shows that efforts can be made to manipulate the Electoral College vote using falsehoods and shenanigans by ambitious politicians. The President should always be elected by the people, not the politicians, and the Electoral College allows politicians to make the ultimate decision. It is well past time to do away with this anachronistic institution and guarantee a fair and accurate vote for President.” Cohen also cited the pro-Trump supporters who rioted at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to interrupt certification of the Electoral College vote.

Full Article: Tennessee congressman introducing resolution to abolish Electoral College

Tennessee: ‘A dark day for America’: State lawmakers condemn rioters storming US Capitol | Yue Stella Yu and Natalie Allison/Nashville Tennessean

Tennessee’s congressional delegation condemned the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, bringing a joint session of Congress to a halt and forcing lawmakers and staff into lockdown. Most of Tennessee’s Republican delegation began the day vowing to support President Donald Trump’s futile efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, saying they would not certify several states’ Electoral College votes. U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn on Wednesday morning tweeted that “lots of Tennesseans” had traveled to the nation’s Capitol to support Trump. But after rioters breached the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday afternoon, the lawmaker’s tenor changed. After years of encouraging Trump supporters and repeating his false statements, Tennessee’s two U.S. Senators used social media to say they disapproved of the rioting. “You are disrupting the democratic process,” Blackburn tweeted after rioters breached the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday afternoon. “You should be ashamed of yourself. This is violence. This is a crime. It must stop.” Newly sworn-in U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty, who replaced former U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, also condemned the violence on Wednesday. “What is happening at the U.S. Capitol right now is not peaceful, this is violence,” Hagerty said on Twitter. “I condemn it in the strongest terms. We are a nation of laws and this must stop.”

Full Article: Protest at U.S. Capitol: Tennessee delegates on lockdown, riots

Tennessee: AT&T not conducting voting machine audit near Nashville explosion site | Ali Swenson/Associated Press

CLAIM: AT&T got a contract to do a forensic audit of Dominion Voting Systems machines and those machines were recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee — to the same AT&T building that was damaged in a Christmas morning explosion.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. AT&T did not have a contract to audit Dominion machines and was not holding Dominion machines in its Nashville building, both companies confirmed to The Associated Press. Authorities still don’t know the reason for the Christmas day bombing, but there’s no evidence it was election related.

THE FACTS: As federal officials work to piece together a motive for the blast that rattled downtown Nashville on Christmas morning, social media users have invented their own far-fetched theories. One theory shared thousands of times on Facebook over the weekend tries to connect the explosion to voting machines used in the Nov. 3 election. … These claims are groundless. Spokespeople for AT&T and Dominion confirmed to the AP that AT&T had no contract to audit Dominion machines, and no Dominion machines were to be sent to Nashville. Some of the posts attempted to further link AT&T to Dominion by claiming a former owner of the AT&T building was a board member of a firm that owns Dominion.

Cerberus Capital Management, the firm named in the posts, does not own Dominion, nor does it own the company that does own Dominion, Staple Street Capital. “Dominion has no connection to AT&T, the building, Nashville, family members of the Bidens or the Clintons, and Staple Street is not owned by Cerberus,” said Tony Fratto, a partner at the PR firm Hamilton Place Strategies who emailed the AP on behalf of Dominion. “These are conspiracies manufactured out of whole cloth.”

Full Article: AT&T not conducting voting machine audit near Nashville explosion site

Tennessee: Nashville bombing quickly linked with voting, 5G conspiracy theories | Adam Tamburin/Nashville Tennessean

Within minutes of the Christmas Day bombing that blew apart several buildings in downtown Nashville, conspiracy theories surfaced online tying the attack to familiar, debunked claims of voter fraud and the rise of the 5G mobile network. … Conspiracy theorists said the AT&T building near the blast housed tainted voting machines. That false claim was quickly denounced by company spokespeople, and multiple news outlets confirmed the conspiracy theory was not true. Dancy said public officials seeking to dampen the power of conspiracy theories should openly acknowledge uncertainty during emergencies and investigations. “Stick to the evidence,” Dancy said. “You have to be very honest about what you know and what you don’t know.”

Full Article: Nashville bombing quickly linked with voting, 5G conspiracy theories

Tennessee Defends In-Person Voting Rules at Sixth Circuit | Kevin Koeninger/Courthouse News Service

The state of Tennessee asked a panel of judges Tuesday to reinstate a voting law that requires first-time voters to cast ballots in person, arguing the restriction helps ensure the integrity of elections. The Volunteer State asked the Sixth Circuit in October for a decision without oral arguments so the law could be reinstated before the November election, but the Cincinnati-based appeals court refused and instead scheduled Tuesday’s hearing. U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson, an appointee of President Donald Trump, suspended the law with an injunction in September, after the Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute and the NAACP filed suit in federal court and claimed the Covid-19 pandemic required the state to allow more of its voters to use absentee ballots. Richardson found the Tennessee Conference of the NAACP had associational standing to bring the suit based on testimony from 20-year-old college student and member Corey Sweet, who told the court he was unsure of how to vote in the 2020 election. In his brief to the appeals court, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett argued Richardson lacked jurisdiction to issue the injunction because Sweet failed to meet absentee voting eligibility requirements that were wholly unrelated to the first-time voter law. Hargett said Richardson “overstated the burden imposed by the first-time voter requirement,” a burden he called minimal at most, and argued the ruling impacted the ability of the state to verify voters and ensure the integrity of its elections. In their brief to the appeals court, the voting rights groups argued that even if Sweet’s claim was mooted when he became ineligible to vote absentee, the NAACP’s standing is maintained because at least a portion of its more than 10,000 Tennessee members “will be similarly affected by the first-time voter restriction.”

Full Article: Tennessee Defends In-Person Voting Rules at Sixth Circuit

Tennessee: Dispute Over Shelby County Election Machines Remains Unsettled | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

The tug-of-war between Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips and the adherents of paper-ballot voting over the purchase of new election machines continues apace. The most recent development, detailed in a November 18th Flyer article, involved the administrator’s purchase of three new ballot-marking devices for the ongoing runoff elections in Collierville.  The machines are manufactured by the ES&S Company and are of a type previously preferred by a 4-1 vote of the Shelby County Election Commission but rejected for funding by the Shelby County Commision, which, in the interests of transparency, had established its own preference for handmarked paper-ballot devices in several prior votes. The funding source for the three machines had been — publicly, at least — something of a mystery. According to SCEC sources, the machines were paid for by the office of the Secretary of State in Nashville  The purchase of the machines had been revealed last week in a formal SCEC press release, which contended that there had been no alternative to acquiring them, inasmuch as the old machines used by Collierville in the city’s first round of elections earlier this month were tied up, pending certification this week of the November 3rd results.

Full Article: Dispute Over Election Machines Remains Unsettled | Politics Beat Blog

 

Tennessee: Half of all registered voters have already cast early ballots | Mariah Timms/Nashville Tennessean

More Tennesseans have early voted this year than in any previous presidential contest. After 14 days of early voting across the state, 2,070,339 Tennesseans have voted in person, and another 210,428 have already submitted their by-mail/absentee ballots. That total of 2,280,767 early and absentee votes so far means more than half, or 51%, of the state’s registered voters have already cast a ballot. And that’s nearly as many as voted overall four years ago. “These record numbers demonstrate voter confidence in the hard work of election officials across the state,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in a statement. “County election commissions across the state have worked diligently to administer a safe, sensible and responsible election during early voting and we will see the same thing on Election Day.”

Full Article: Half of all registered Tennessee voters have already cast early ballots

Tennessee: Shelby County election officials get eight new ballot scanners for absentee vote count | Bill Dries/Daily Memphian

The Shelby County Election Commission is getting eight new ballot scanners to assist in counting the large number of absentee ballots being cast locally in the presidential general election. The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office is providing a share of its federal CARES Act funding for the election hardware and technology, aimed at shortening what could be a long vote count election night following what could be a record overall turnout. Secretary of State Tre Hargett Tuesday, Oct. 27, confirmed to The Daily Memphian the arrangement worked out with the local election commission using federal CARES Act funding. “Shelby County had expressed the need for scanners to handle the larger-than-normal absentee ballot turnout,” Hargett said. “We have gone back to counties and said, ‘Look, if there is a need that you have at this time, there is CARES Act funding remaining.’ ” The Secretary of State’s office approved $47,800 specifically for elections to allow the Shelby County Election Commission to buy the scanners.

Full Article: Election officials get eight new ballot scanners for absentee vote count – Memphis Local, Sports, Business & Food News | Daily Memphian

Tennessee: Shelby County Commission rejects contract for voting system | Bill Dries/Daily Memphian

A $5.8 million contract for a new voting system in Shelby County fell one vote short of the seven needed from the Shelby County County Commission Monday, Oct. 12, in a move that critics say could delay the local vote count in the upcoming presidential election. While the election system wouldn’t have been used until the 2022 elections, the Election Commission sought approval to buy the system in order to have ballot scanners to process an expected increase in absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election in less than a month. Ultimately, however, county commissioners had too many problems with a call by the Election Commission to approve the entire contract or nothing at all. Commissioners, therefore, voted down the system 6-5.Commissioners also expressed reservations about changes in the bid terms for the number of scanners before the Election Commission approved the contract with ES&S LLC of Omaha, Nebraska, and sent it to the County Commission. Election Commission administrators increased the number of ballot scanners, upping the dollar amount of the contract by $1.1 million after realizing none of the firms bidding for the contract realized that by state law, such scanners can only process a maximum of 9,999 ballots each in an election night count.

Tennessee: State shifts position on COVID-19 and absentee voting in arguments before Tennessee Supreme Court | Mariah Timms and Joel Ebert/Nashville Tennessean

The question of expanding absentee voting in Tennessee reached the state’s highest court Thursday as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case. It comes on the last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot for the Aug. 6 primary, although officials have urged voters to act early as post office delivery times increase. An absentee ballot must be in the hands of officials by close of business on election day to count, and they must be submitted by mail. At issue is whether concern over the spread of COVID-19 is a valid excuse to receive an absentee ballot. A lower court ruled that it was and any registered voter could apply to receive a mail-in ballot. As a result, county election commissions have reported record numbers of applications. But the state appealed the decision, and the high court took the case directly. Its ruling will be an “incredibly important case for all Tennesseans,” Chief Justice Jeff Bivins said.

Tennessee: Lawmakers voice opposition to delaying the election | Scripps Media

On Thursday, President Trump floated the idea of delaying the November election. It is something that has never happened in the United States. He cited his continued claims that the election will be inaccurate with the use of mail-in voting. The President does not have the authority to delay an election, rather the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the date for voting. Many lawmakers from both parties very quickly said the likelihood an election would be delayed is very low. Senator Marsha Blackburn responded to the President’s idea during an interview on Fox News Thursday. Senator Marsha Blackburn: “I served on the election committee in my county in the late 80s; so I know that our local election commissions do everything they can possibly do to make sure these elections are fair. The elections are set. They’re going to take place and I don’t think you’re going to see them stopped. Other Tennessee representatives and senators took to social media to express their disapproval.

Tennessee: Lawmakers voice opposition to delaying the election | Scripps Media

On Thursday, President Trump floated the idea of delaying the November election. It is something that has never happened in the United States. He cited his continued claims that the election will be inaccurate with the use of mail-in voting. The President does not have the authority to delay an election, rather the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the date for voting. Many lawmakers from both parties very quickly said the likelihood an election would be delayed is very low. Senator Marsha Blackburn responded to the President’s idea during an interview on Fox News Thursday. Senator Marsha Blackburn: “I served on the election committee in my county in the late 80s; so I know that our local election commissions do everything they can possibly do to make sure these elections are fair. The elections are set. They’re going to take place and I don’t think you’re going to see them stopped. Other Tennessee representatives and senators took to social media to express their disapproval.

Tennessee: Secretary of State’s opposition to COVID-19 absentee ballots called ‘pitiful’ during US Senate hearing | Natalie Allison/Nashville Tennessean

Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Wednesday spoke before a U.S. Senate committee regarding Tennessee’s preparations for upcoming elections, a hearing that became heated as multiple members grilled him on the state’s resistance to expanding absentee voting due to the coronavirus. Hargett, who appeared by video before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, discussed Tennessee’s use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover the costs of necessary measures to make in-person voting safer this August and November, as well as buying additional ballot-scanning equipment and absentee envelopes. He reported that after traveling to 10 Tennessee counties last weekend after early voting began Friday ahead of the Aug. 6 primary, Hargett observed that voters and poll workers all appeared to be following new protocols put in place by the state. “Without fail, every person said, ‘I feel very safe coming to vote,’ ” Hargett said. But later in the hearing, multiple senators pushed back on Tennessee’s ongoing fight against a state judge’s order last month that Tennessee must expand mail voting due to the threat of contracting coronavirus at the voting booth.

Tennessee: State: All counties all have updated mail voting info | Associated Press

Tennessee’s elections coordinator says all 95 counties have updated their websites or written materials to reflect a judge’s ruling that every eligible voter can choose to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Elections Coordinator Mark Goins confirmed the updates by counties Wednesday in a court filing ordered by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle. That includes updated written materials from 12 counties without election commission websites. Last month, Lyle ordered Goins to tell counties to update their information after plaintiffs attorneys named 20 counties with absentee request forms or other website mentions that didn’t correctly reference COVID-19 as a reason to vote absentee. Those 20 counties displayed updated websites shortly after. Earlier this week, Lyle ordered an update from Goins, saying it was “still unknown” whether counties were complying.

Tennessee: Some first-time voters can’t cast absentee ballot | Jonathan Matisse/Associated Press

Tennessee officials say they plan to enforce a requirement that first-time voters who register by mail cast their ballots in person, despite a judge’s ruling that allows all eligible voters to cast absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. The state attorney general’s office provided the interpretation in response to a separate federal lawsuit that seeks to block the in-person requirement and two other absentee voting laws before the Aug. 6 primary election. In early June, a state court judge in Nashville ordered the expansion for all eligible voters during the pandemic. But her instructions did not directly address the first-time voter requirement. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sought to block the in-person requirement in a mid-June court filing, saying it’s unclear if the judge’s order allows that group to vote by mail. The requirement also applies to forms collected during voter registration drives and registrations collected at offices that provide public assistance and services to persons with disabilities, plaintiffs attorneys added.

Tennessee: State Supreme Court keeps mail voting expansion amid appeal | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that it will not block a judge’s order offering a by-mail voting option to all eligible voters during the coronavirus pandemic while the state continues to appeal. The Tennessee high court did agree with the state’s wish to fast-track the appeal without a lower appellate court considering it. But a majority of justices voted against stopping the absentee voting expansion pending appeal, dealing a blow to the state’s efforts to unravel the expansion as the Aug. 6 primary approaches. Voters are able to apply for absentee ballots through July 30. The primary election will be headlined by a contested Republican race for an open U.S. Senate seat. State election officials have opposed the expansion, instead recommending preparations as though all 1.4 million registered voters 60 and older will cast mail-in ballots in the primary. Historically, Tennessee has historically seen less than 2.5% of votes cast by mail, the state has said.

Tennessee: Judge: ‘Shame’ on state for shirking mail voting order | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

A judge on Thursday said “shame on you” to state officials for not abiding by her order that allows a vote-by-mail option for all of Tennessee’s 4.1 million voters during the coronavirus pandemic, saying she now had “to clean up confusion” from the state’s decision to reword its absentee voting applications on its own. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ordered changes to the absentee form but stopped short of ordering sanctions against the state for not complying, citing tough budget times for the state during the pandemic. But she warned “there always is the specter of criminal contempt if after today’s orders there’s still noncompliance and there’s disobedience.” “Shame on you for not following that procedure and just taking matters into your own hands,” Lyle said at Thursday’s hearing. “So, I’m calling the state out on that, for not adhering to the standards of legal process, and not adhering to the order.” Only a handful of states are not offering by-mail voting for everyone during the pandemic, though two-thirds of states allowed the practice before the outbreak.

Tennessee: State, Groups Clash Over Compliance in Vote-By-Mail Ruling | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

Attorneys for voting rights groups want Tennessee officials held in contempt of court over claims they have not immediately let all Tennessee voters get ballots to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic as ordered. The state, in turn, has contended it is complying and the groups are citing out-dated instructions for local election officials. That fight over whether Tennessee officials are meeting their obligations on the court-ordered absentee voting option for all 4.1 million of Tennessee’s registered voters is headed for a hearing Thursday in Nashville. At the same time, the state is also fighting to have the expansion blocked on appeal. In a Davidson County Chancery Court filing Monday night, plaintiffs attorneys wrote that the judge didn’t order the state to create a new form with a COVID-19 option, though it still did. The judge’s ruling directed voters to select an existing illness and disability box. The new option says, “I have determined it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 situation, and therefore qualify as hospitalized, ill, or disabled and unable to appear at my polling place.” The filing points out there’s no explanation of what constitutes “impossible or unreasonable.”

Tennessee: State election coordinator: Don’t send forms yet for expanded voting | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

Tennessee’s election coordinator told his local counterparts Friday not to send absentee voting applications to some Tennesseans just yet, guidance issued the day after a court ordered that all 4.1 million registered voters can vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. In his email, Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told local election officials not to send the applications for people citing illness or COVID-19 as a reason. He wrote that the state may be revising its application form and that it will ask an appeals court to block the expansion to allow all voters to cast ballots by mail during the pandemic. Those seeking to vote by mail for other valid reasons, including all voters 60 or older, can still be sent applications, Goins wrote. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s ruling late Thursday instructs that anyone who “determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person at a polling place due to the COVID-19 situation” is eligible to check a box on the absentee ballot application about “being hospitalized, ill or physically disabled.” Officials began accepting applications to vote by mail last month for the upcoming Aug. 6 primary election in Tennessee.

Tennessee: Judge: Tennessee must allow vote by mail for all amid virus | John Mattise/Associated Press

Tennessee must give all of its 4.1 million registered voters the option to cast ballots by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, a judge ruled Thursday. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that the state’s limits on absentee voting during the pandemic constitute “an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.” The decision upends a determination by Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office that fear of catching or unwittingly spreading the virus at the polls wouldn’t qualify someone to vote by mail. The state argued such an expansion wouldn’t be feasible for the 2020 elections, claiming lack of money, personnel and equipment for increased voting by mail, among other concerns. The ruling is likely to be appealed.

Tennessee: Judge: Virus mail voting guidelines ambiguous | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

A Tennessee judge on Wednesday said the state’s guidance about who can vote by mail due to the coronavirus is “very ambiguous,” and she cited “weighty proof” that other states have expanded to let all voters cast absentee ballots this year — something Tennessee officials say is not feasible. In a hearing via video conference due to the pandemic, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle cast doubts on some of the state’s key arguments against two lawsuits that seek a by-mail voting option for all voters this year to curb the virus’ spread at the polls. Lyle also cautioned that whatever she orders needs to be “a practical, workable solution, or it will throw the election into chaos.” She raised particular concerns about costs for local governments. The judge plans to rule Thursday on whether to issue a temporary injunction to allow all voters to request absentee ballots in the Aug. 6 primary. A similar federal lawsuit is also pending. At one point, she cited a section of the state Constitution that says the right to vote “shall never be denied” to any person entitled to do so. “When I read that, it really resonated with me that what you’re saying is, ‘It’s better to deny the injunction even if the result is that people don’t vote,’” Lyle said. “That’s what you’re saying, that they don’t get to access that fundamental right that we all treasure under the Tennessee Constitution.”

Tennessee: Secretary of State holding on to $55M for projects besides universal absentee voting | Sam Stockard/The Daily Memphian

The Secretary of State’s Office is sitting on $55 million, but it won’t be putting it toward universal absentee balloting, a policy neither Secretary Tre Hargett nor Gov. Bill Lee support. Through the CARES Act, the office has $9.58 million to deal with coronavirus issues and has put together a plan to cope with COVID-19 during the August and November elections. Most of the plan focuses on sanitary measures, social distancing, screening of poll workers and absentee balloting for anyone 60 and older. The state received $7.98 million from the federal CARES Act and put in another $1.6 million of its own money for a COVID plan. “We are spending every penny of those funds to administer the August and November elections,” Secretary of State spokeswoman Julia Bruck said. The state also has $10.2 million from earlier in the year and $35.4 million left from other federal grants intended for other investments but could be used for pandemic-related needs, according to Think Tennessee, a nonprofit think tank. Yet while Think Tennessee, Democratic lawmakers and a majority of Tennesseans believe the state should take steps to avoid voting crowds during the pandemic, the state balks at the idea.

Tennessee: In Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic, Plaintiff Sues to Challenge Tennessee’s Vote-By-Mail Procedures | Junaid Odubeko, Mike Stephens, Richard W.F. Swor/Bradley

Heading into this year, 2020 was set to be one of the most interesting and consequential elections in recent history. However, the 2020 election cycle has been upended by the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Voters standing in line close to each other, handling ballots, and using touchscreens could make for a dangerous environment for transmission of the virus. Election officials and policymakers are giving full attention to mitigation strategies, including voting by mail. In Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett have announced their intention to hold the August election like any other year, rebuffing the expansion of absentee or mail-in voting. Currently, a voter can only receive an absentee ballot if they fall in one of the enumerated categories in Tennessee Code § 2-6-201. These nine categories include people who are living outside of the county, people observing a religious holiday, and people who are over the age of 65 or are unable to appear at their polling place because they are hospitalized, ill, or disabled.

Tennessee: Connection between Shelby County Elections administrator and ES&S under scrutiny | April Thompson/WREG

WREG has learned there is a lot of controversy surrounding the company providing new voting machines for the county and the Shelby County Elections administrator. WREG has confirmed with an election commissioner the company is ES & S, the same company that commission and election administrator Linda Phillips recommended. Phillips says the new machines are desperately needed. “Our current scanners are very, very old,” Phillips said. “Our new election system has new modern updated scanners. But I am becoming increasingly concerned we will not get those in time to do the August election. The hold up, the Letter of Intent for the new equipment hadn’t been approved by the County Mayor.” A group of concerned citizens have raised the issue about the purchase and about Phillips. Erika Sugarmon among them. “It’s an appearance of conflict of interest. Because once these contracts are executed then one or two of her children has appointment with these companies,” Sugarmon said. “And the company ‘Everyone Counts’ for example, she worked there prior to coming to the Shelby County Election Commission.”

Tennessee: ACLU files suit against Tennessee urging mail-in ballots for all voters in 2020 elections | Mariah Timms/Nashville Tennessean

Tennessee may need to make absentee voting available to all eligible voters by the August primary election, if a lawsuit filed Friday against the state is successful. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed the suit on behalf of several residents who believe their health conditions would make voting during the COVID-19 pandemic a threat to their safety. Currently, eligible voters must provide a qualifying excuse as to why they need to vote by mail, the ACLU said. The suit pushes the state to expand those requirements and allow all eligible voters to vote by absentee ballot. “No one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote. Tennessee can simultaneously keep the public safe and protect democracy, but is refusing to do so. Eliminating the excuse requirement during COVID-19 is a common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote, which is why many other states have already made vote by mail and absentee voting available,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a release. Fear of contracting the coronavirus doesn’t meet the criteria to vote by mail due to illness in Tennessee, state officials said Tuesday. Even so, officials recommended preparing as though all 1.4 million registered voters who are at least 60 will cast ballots by mail in the August primary election.

Tennessee: Welcome to the Machine: Fight Over Shelby County Voting System Raises Issues of Integrity and Nepotism | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

Are the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County — troubled with decades of problematic and even botched election results — really about to acquire a new, improved means of expressing their will in the forthcoming August and November election rounds? That question may be answered this week, as the Shelby County Commission decides whether to accept or overrule the judgment last week of Election Administrator Linda Phillips and the Shelby County Election Commission (SCEC) — apparently in favor of ballot-marking devices marketed by the ES&S Company, a monolith of the election-machine industry. The name of the chosen manufacturer was not explicitly revealed last week — “Company 1,” was how it was called in discussion — but several references by Phillips to the “thermal paper” uniquely employed by ES&S for production of machine receipts, were something of a giveaway. The Shelby County Commission, which has the responsibility of paying for the machines (or not), had voted twice previously in favor of hand-marked ballots instead, on several grounds, including cost, transparency, and invulnerability to ballot-hacking. And an aroused contingent of local activists, abetted by a network of nationally known election adepts, is prepared to insist on that choice.

Tennessee: State election official: Fear of virus not reason to vote by mail | Jonathan Mattise/The Associated Press

Fear of contracting the coronavirus doesn’t meet the criteria to vote by mail due to illness in Tennessee, state officials said Tuesday, as they recommended preparing as though all 1.4 million registered voters who are at least 60 will cast ballots by mail in the August primary election. “In consultation with the Attorney General’s office the fear of getting ill does not fall under the definition of ill,” Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins told The Associated Press in a statement Tuesday. The guidance comes after the release of Tennessee’s COVID-19 election contingency plan, which was prepared by the state Division of Elections, dated April 23, and provided this week to the AP. The plan doesn’t contemplate a shift to allow all voters to cast ballots by mail due to fears of contracting or unknowingly spreading COVID-19 at the polls. Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett has contended that would be a huge change in a short time frame for a state accustomed to voting in person. The GOP-led Legislature this year also brushed aside attempts to expand absentee voting in the midst of a pandemic. Several states, including Tennessee, have faced lawsuits to expand absentee voting.

Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission approves new voting system | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

Shelby County election commissioners approved a new voting system for Shelby County Thursday night, May 7, that will include machines with a paper audit trail. The 4-1 vote came at the end of a 4.5-hour special meeting that all five election commissioners attended in person at their operations center at Shelby County, along with staff, as an online audience watched and commented. On the advice of its attorneys, the election commission did not disclose the name of the vendor or the cost of their proposal. The attorneys and county purchasing officials said the commission couldn’t disclose any of the information until after it made its decision and a formal letter of intent was issued. It was one of three proposals made in the formal “request for proposal” process and the one that county elections administrator Linda Phillips recommended. The decision goes next to the Shelby County Commission, which will vote on appropriating the funding necessary to buy the machines. That is when the details of the proposal, including the name of the company and the price as well as the offers of competitors, are to become public. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has questioned whether the secrecy surrounding what the election commission voted on is a violation of the state’s open meetings law.