By Maxwell Weiss
Tennessee is among a waning list of states attempting to increase voting restrictions during the pandemic. Many states have changed their election laws to allow any voter to vote using an absentee ballot. However, the Volunteer State is one of five states without no-excuse absentee voting this November, despite the significant health risk of voting in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic. First-time voters were also required to vote in-person, until a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction striking down the restriction. The court held that the state’s only compelling interest in enforcing that restriction is securing valid identification from the voter. Since absentee voting can accommodate identification verification and reduce the burden on voters, the court granted the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction so that first-time voters will be allowed to vote absentee this November, if they meet the narrow set of criteria to vote absentee.
While certainly a step in the right direction, this was the only win for voting rights from the Memphis A. Phillip Randolph Institute this summer. In the same suit, the group challenged Tennessee provisions including: criminal prohibitions on assisting voters to obtain absentee ballot requests; lack of opportunity to cure ballot rejections based on signature mismatches; and failure to make mail-in voting available to all voters.