Voting During a Pandemic: Promising Solutions for Tennessee

LATEST: On June 4, the Davidson County Chancery Court ruled that the state must provide all eligible Tennessee voters the option to vote absentee in the August and November elections. On June 25, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied the state’s attempt to suspend the Chancery Court’s ruling while the state appeals it. At this time, voters who have “determined it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 situation” may request absentee ballots here.

2020 Legislative Updates

Read the latest on pending elections and voting legislation here.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a new threat to elections across the country. The good news? Tennessee has systems in place that, with some adjustments, will help ensure that Tennesseans don’t have to choose between exercising their right to vote and protecting their health.

With our August and November elections quickly approaching, now is the time to find solutions for the state that, last presidential election, ranked #49 for voter turnout.

Check out the key findings below, or read the full report here.

And check out our recent webinar on holding elections during a pandemic.

States Are Expanding Absentee Voting to Keep Voters and Poll Workers Safe from COVID-19.
Will Tennessee?

Most states allow every voter to cast an absentee ballot in every election. The rest typically require voters to list a qualifying “excuse” to get an absentee ballot. Nearly all of them have now taken steps to waive that requirement during the pandemic.

Tennessee has not yet acted.

Most states already allow every voter to use an absentee ballot. 

29 states and D.C. already allow every voter to vote absentee in every election, without providing a reason or “excuse.” In another five states, all registered voters are mailed ballots, which they can return to election officials by mail or at secure drop-off locations.

Just 16 states require voters to list a qualifying “excuse” to get an absentee ballot. Tennessee is one of these.

What Will Temporarily Expanding Absentee Voting Cost? Tennessee Has More Than Enough. 

Up to $55 million in federal funding is available to make new investments in Tennessee elections.

This funding includes $9.5 million in new coronavirus emergency response funds, another $10.2 million from earlier this year and $35.4 million remaining from previous federal grants. The previous grants were originally intended for other election-related investments but can be used to support pandemic-related needs. 

Voters Support Policies Like Expanded Absentee and Mail-In Voting for the 2020 Elections.

Voters have serious concerns about in-person voting during the pandemic. A new bipartisan poll shows that they strongly support solutions like mail-in voting, which can help protect them and their families.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll surveyed 900 registered voters from April 13-15. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates, a leading Democratic polling firm, and Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm.

What solutions might work for Tennessee? We’ve got three ideas.