Tennessee Judge Rejects Democrats’ Bid for Absentee Voter Records

Marquita Bradshaw, the Tennessee Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, takes part in a Power Together Women’s March in Nashville on Oct. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(CN) — A Tennessee judge ruled Monday afternoon that a Democratic Senate candidate’s campaign sued the wrong officials when it tried to get information on absentee voters in a last-minute, get-out-the-vote effort.  

On Sunday, the Tennessee Democratic Party and the campaign for Marquita Bradshaw, who is seeking the Tennessee U.S. Senate seat up for grabs this year, asked a judge to force state election officials to hand over information on voters who asked to vote absentee but never returned their ballots. The campaign said it wanted to reach out to those voters before Election Day.

But after a hearing held in Davidson County Chancery Court on Monday morning, Chancellor Patricia Moskal denied the request for a preliminary injunction. Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins and the Secretary of State’s public records request coordinator, Mary Beth Thomas, filed declarations saying the plaintiffs never requested information from them.

On Friday, the Bradshaw campaign said it requested names of individuals who asked their local election officials for a mail-in ballot but never returned it. The campaign made requests to five of the state’s 95 counties that make up some of its most populated urban centers: Davidson, Knox, Madison, Shelby and Washington counties.

It was the first day that the information on absentee voters became public record in Tennessee. During the early-voting period, which ran until Oct. 29, the information is confidential.

Only Knox County gave the campaign the information, according to Monday’s order. It replied within about 45 minutes.

In her eight-page order, Moskal noted the campaign and the state Democratic Party did not sue the county election officials but still claimed the state officials had the information on absentee voters.

“While the Division of Elections requires each county election commission to prepare a daily list of early voters for each day of the early voting period (including in-person voters and voters by absentee ballots), and defendants acknowledged that such lists of early voters are transmitted to the Division of Elections, there is nothing in the record to demonstrate that the specific voter information requested—regarding absentee voters’ requests for ballots who have not yet submitted their ballots—is compiled by county election commissions and transmitted to the Division of Elections,” Moskal wrote. (Parentheses in original.)

Julia Bruck, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the lawsuit eroded voter confidence through false allegations, calling it “a publicity stunt meant to disenfranchise Tennessee voters.”

“We did not receive a public records request for the information,” Bruck wrote in an email. “We did not deny a public records request. We did not tell counties to deny a public records request.”

A spokesperson with the Tennessee Democratic Party said it is still working on getting the information on absentee voters who have not returned their ballots.

Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race is expected to go to Bradshaw’s opponent, Republican Bill Hagerty. The state’s other Senate seat is held by Republican Marsha Blackburn, who is next up for reelection in 2024.

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