The persistence of the pandemic is not a sufficient rationale for allowing everyone in Tennessee to vote by mail this fall, the state's top court has ruled, putting the state back on the otherwise shrinking roster of places with excuse requirements for getting an absentee ballot.
Wednesday's 4-1 decision by the state Supreme Court overturned a lower court's declaration two months ago that all eligible voters be permitted to use the mail this year in order to avoid Covid-19 exposure. It stands as the first time a state's top court has used an appeal to make absentee voting in November more restrictive.
As a result, there are now eight states where a reason beyond fear of the coronavirus will be needed to vote for president. Other than New York and Indiana, the rest are spread across the South; of those, all but emerging battleground Texas are reliably Republican red: Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana now joined again by Tennessee.
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In a campaign season when civil discourse seems headed to another record low, rhetorical excess has just been given a little extra boost.
For three decades Tennessee has made it a minor crime to put knowingly false statements about a candidate in oppositional campaign literature — one of the more explicit restrictions on political speech in the nation's law books. But last week a state judge said it was a bridge way too far over the First Amendment.
A prominent democracy reform group, Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws, sued and won the right to declare in print something hyperbolic in the extreme: That a Republican state legislator is "literally Hitler," the Nazi fuhrer who died in Germany three-quarters of a century ago.
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Dorian Spears has spent her whole life in Memphis. After college she worked for a social services agency, on a mayoral task force to curb gun violence and as a county economic development official before joining Momentum Nonprofit Partners, which coordinates local philanthropic efforts, three years ago. As chief partnerships officer, her current focus is coordinating efforts to assure a comprehensive census count of Tennessee, especially its cities, to maximize government aid and political power for the state's Black neighborhoods. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.
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