Tennessee was ordered to dramatically expand access to absentee voting last month to protect people from the coronavirus. But as early voting begins tomorrow, the state says that first-time voters still must verify their identities in person before requesting a mail-in ballot.
First-timers who registered by mail or online essentially have two options: vote in-person — whether that’s during early voting or on Election Day — or go to their local election commission to request an absentee ballot.
The state says that’s to ensure election security and confidence in the results. But voting rights advocates say it forces people to choose between their health and their votes.
“It just disenfranchises a whole swath of voters that want to vote,” says Charlane Oliver, co-founder of The Equity Alliance, which focus on registering Black voters. “This is a hotly contested election, people are motivated to come out, but there are so many barriers.”
Oliver says the in-person requirement will especially impact younger people, who may be voting for the first time. The policy also requires the same identity verification for people who registered to vote in a different county.
The state is facing ongoing legal battles with voting rights advocates, including the Equity Alliance, to determine the specific rules around absentee voting.
Early voting begins July 17 and runs through Aug. 1. The deadline to request and absentee ballot is July 30. Election Day is Aug. 6.