Last November’s election saw record-breaking voter turnout in Tennessee, with more than three million Tennesseans casting a ballot despite the global health crisis.
Tennessee voters sent our state a message this November: When they are offered safe and convenient ways to vote, they will use them. Policies like generous Early Voting periods, expanded access to absentee ballots and readily available PPE at polling locations allowed voters to cast their ballots without risking their health.
How will the Tennessee General Assembly look to build on the system that helped administer this successful election? The 60+ election bills legislators have introduced this session show different approaches.
Some seek ways to expand access to the ballot box:
- One bill [SB0306/HB0433] would expand the use of Convenience Vote Centers, which allow voters to cast their ballots at any polling location in their county on Election Day.
- Another [SB1413/HB0805] would allow people other than Election Commission employees to distribute absentee applications to voters, a practice currently not allowed in Tennessee but permitted in many other states.
- A handful of bills [SB0105/HB1157, SB0218/HB0095, SB0687/HB0689, SB0927/HB0937] would require all counties to use voting machines that provide an auditable paper trail, which we know increases trust in our elections, and which Tennessee voters say they want.
- One bill [SB1273/HB1098] would allow residents of independent living facilities on the same property as licensed nursing homes to vote absentee when the county Election Commission conducts absentee voting at the facility.
Others, however, would move in the opposite direction, limiting access:
- One bill [SB1510] would abolish Early Voting, an option 68% of Tennessee voters chose in November.
- Another [SB1164/HB1221] would require the names and signatures of the voters who request absentee ballots to be displayed online, potentially discouraging voters concerned with privacy.
It’s not clear yet which, if any, of these bills will become law. We’ll be watching closely and updating you as the session progresses and committees meet to consider legislation.