Judge halts Tennessee law that required ID for first-time vote-by-mail voters

By Andrew Trunsky

A federal judge blocked a Tennessee law Wednesday that barred new voters from casting ballots by mail unless they presented identification to an election office beforehand.

U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson ordered the injunction Wednesday amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has led to millions of voters electing to vote by mail instead of in person. Richardson said in his ruling that the decision would not “aid one side or the other on the political front,” The Associated Press reported.

“The Court concludes that the requested injunction would favorably impact the public interest because as discussed above, it would serve to prevent what, based on the current record, likely would be a violation of the First Amendment right to vote enjoyed by the American citizenry,” Richardson, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, wrote, according to the AP.

Plaintiffs argued that the state law affected approximately 128,000 new voters through adding a “non-existent congressional requirement,” according to AP. The state has over four million registered voters, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State.

The ruling comes after a judge ordered Tennessee to expand absentee voting to all eligible voters throughout the pandemic, a rule which was in effect during the state’s Aug. 6 primary. However, the state did not scrap its rule pertaining to first-time voters, according to AP.

After the primary, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the expansion, but said that voters were able to request an absentee ballot if they or someone close to them was at a higher risk for COVID-19.

“This decision means that first-time voters in Tennessee who registered by mail or online – and there are tens of thousands of them, many of whom are young – can vote in November by mail, without risking their health,” said Kristen Clarke, the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs, according to AP.

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Image courtesy of USPS