Court Ruling: First-Time Tennessee Voters Will Be Allowed to Vote Absentee

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A person's hand putting an absentee ballot into a mail box

On Oct. 19, 2020, a federal appeals court denied a motion by the state of Tennessee to block enforcement of a lower court decision to allow first-time voters who registered to vote by mail or online to vote absentee in this fall’s election if they are otherwise eligible.

While this doesn’t end the case permanently, the issue of whether first-time voters can vote absentee is now effectively resolved for the 2020 general election.

This is a win for Tennessee voters, who are represented by Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. CLC and partners had challenged Tennessee’s strict limitations in May 2020 on who can vote absentee.

This change is likely to help tens of thousands of first-time Tennessee voters, including newly-registered college students that are away for school. It also will make voting safer and more accessible for people with “special vulnerability to COVID-19” and seniors over the age of 60, who have recently registered to vote.

A prior Tennessee Supreme Court order made clear that those with “special vulnerability to COVID-19” and their caretakers are eligible to vote absentee this year. But the law challenged here would have stopped first-time voters – or voters casting a ballot for the first time in a new residence – from taking advantage of the expanded eligibility criteria.

No voter should have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote, particularly in the middle of a global pandemic.

Corey handles media relations for the CLC voting rights and redistricting teams and creates online content.