Judge Keeps Nashville Polls Open Late After Tornado

Sumant Joshi helps to clean up rubble at the East End United Methodist Church in Nashville after it was heavily damaged by storms Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(CN) – A Tennessee judge ruled Tuesday afternoon that some polling places in Davidson County will stay open an extra three hours because of a tornado that caused extensive damage and claimed lives in downtown Nashville.

While the polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Central time, a Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled on an emergency injunction and granted the Tennessee Democratic Party’s request to extend all polling locations hours until 8 p.m. In addition, five “mega polling sites” will remain open until 10 p.m.

In the early morning hours on Tuesday, a series of tornadoes ripped through central Tennessee, killing nearly two dozen people.

One tornado that cut through downtown Nashville leveled more than 40 buildings and knocked out power for tens of thousands of people. Roughly a dozen polling locations in Davidson County were affected by the storm.

Some polling locations opened an hour late Super Tuesday and others required generators to operate.

The ruling “will definitely delay returns and return times,” said Emily Cupples, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Democratic Party. “But…as long as the secretary of state does its job we should get them relatively quickly after 10 o’clock.”

To create the order, Lyle took blue pen to the three-page proposed order, scratched out the word “proposed,” and modified it by only keeping the “mega polling sites” open until 10 p.m. and all other locations open until 8 p.m. The order originally asked that all polling locations remain open until 10 p.m.

The Tennessee Democratic Party sought the injunction against Secretary of State Tre Hargett and the Davidson County Election Commission. The presidential campaigns for the four front-running Democratic candidates also joined the suit: Biden for President, Warren for President, Bernie 2020 and Mike Bloomberg 2020.

The Supreme Court building had closed for the day and state courts in Davidson County had also kept their doors closed in light of the tornado damage — except for any lawsuits like this.

When Courthouse News called the Davidson County Chancery Court, a lone clerk who had stepped out of the emergency hearing answered the call.

“The Chief Justice designated a judge this morning in each [affected] county to hear any emergency election cases. E-filing is up and running,” Barbara Peck, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, said in an email.

Julia Bruck, a spokesperson for the secretary of state, said in a statement that the order will prevent Davidson County – one of the few Democratic strongholds in Tennessee – from reporting its early voting results along with the other 94 other counties in the state.

“Only the judge has the authority to make this decision. We do not have the ability to extend voting hours in Tennessee, and it’s important to note this order only applies to Davidson County. We will be supporting the Davidson County Election Commission to abide by the order,” Bruck said.

A breakdown of polling location changes was posted by the Davison County Election Commission.

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Heather Preston contributed to this report.

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