NASHVILLE, TN – State laws related to the distribution of absentee ballot applications are outdated and leave Tennessee voters susceptible to unknowingly committing a felony or misdemeanor, finds a new policy brief released today by nonpartisan think tank ThinkTennessee.
Current state laws criminalize giving an absentee ballot application form to another person, even in cases where the person requests it. The laws restricting absentee ballot application sharing were enacted prior to the advent of the internet. Absentee ballot applications are now easily accessible on the Secretary of State’s website, leading to a lack of clarity around what is allowed.
“No Tennessee voter should face the prospect of losing their right to vote for sharing an absentee ballot application with an eligible voter who wants one,” said Erin Hafkenschiel, president of ThinkTennessee. “With the application form now available online, a Tennessean who sends a link to their daughter away at college or prints out an application form for their elderly parent is technically committing a felony. Modernizing state laws for today’s context is important for maintaining election security and integrity.”
- Tennessee law prohibits the sharing of absentee ballot applications. It is a Class E felony to give someone the official application for an absentee ballot and a Class A misdemeanor to give them an unsolicited request for an application for an absentee ballot.
- It is very easy for someone in Tennessee to unknowingly commit a felony. The absentee application form is accessible online, making the mere sharing of a link a potential felony act under current law.
- Moreover, it is unclear what actions result in a misdemeanor. The 2002 law does not clearly define what a “request for an application” means.
- Both laws can be clarified while maintaining and further enhancing election security. It is too challenging to prevent someone from sharing an application that is easily available online. Furthermore, Tennessee law already defines which voters are eligible to vote absentee, how they may request an absentee ballot, and how election officials review received requests. Updating these laws will not change any of these procedures.