Tennessee Democrats Sue for Release of Absentee Vote Info

U.S. Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw poses for a photo while speaking with a reporter on Sept. 16, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

(CN) — The Tennessee Democratic Party and the state’s Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate turned to the courts Sunday in an alleged attempt to wrest information from election officials on absentee voters ahead of Election Day.

At issue: The information on which Tennessee residents voting absentee still have not returned their ballots to local election officials.

The campaign for Marquita Bradshaw and the Tennessee Democratic Party asked election officials in the state’s 95 counties and Secretary of State’s Office to “provide them with information of voters who were mailed absentee ballots and had not yet returned them to the respective election commission offices,” the complaint said. 

The campaign hoped to reach out to those voters who possibly needed more guidance on how to cast their vote.

The state reportedly refused.

After emailing Mark Goins, Tennessee’s coordinator of elections, on Sunday morning and then trying to reach him by phone, the Marquita Bradshaw campaign and the Tennessee Democratic Party filed a five-page lawsuit in the Chancery Court in Davidson County, whose seat is Nashville.

Bradshaw is running for the seat of Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican who announced he would not seek reelection, against former ambassador to Japan and Republican Bill Hagerty.

During the Democratic primary held in August, Bradshaw beat out veteran James Mackler, who had millions of dollars and the backing of the party. At that time, Bradshaw had raised less than $10,000.

The race between Bradshaw and Hagerty is widely predicted to yield a safe Republican seat.

In an email to Courthouse News, Secretary of State spokeswoman Julia Bruck said the lawsuit comes as a distraction in the 11th hour of a critical election.

“At best the filing is inaccurate and at worst misinformation,” Bruck wrote. “With less than 48 hours before the polls open across Tennessee, this filing further distracts county elections officials from their critical work of conducting this election safely, responsibly, and sensibly.”

Bruck added what is inaccurate about the lawsuit will be addressed at a hearing.

According to the complaint, information on absentee voting is not subject to Tennessee open records law until after the state’s early voting period ends. This year, the last day to vote early in the state was Thursday, Oct. 29.

But after the Bradshaw campaign made the request, the Secretary of State’s office told local election officials not to fulfill it.

“Because the action of the Defendants and their blatant disregard for the law in the State of Tennessee, and in an effort to increase voter turnout and participation in our Nation’s most fundamental right, Plaintiffs now file this lawsuit,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit asks the court to order election officials to release the information on voters who requested to vote absentee “within an hour of entry of Order of this Court.”

Attorney Benjamin Gastel, with the Nashville firm Branstetter, Stranch & Jennings, and the Memphis attorney Alexander Wharton filed the suit on behalf of the state Democratic Party and the Bradshaw campaign.

A press release by the Tennessee Democratic Party said the requests were routine. And in a statement, Bradshaw’s campaign manager Ken Taylor said the actions of the state equaled voter suppression.

“Transparent administration of the electoral process is central to our democracy,” Taylor said. “The statute is clear. Voters have a right to know if their vote was received and counted.”

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