Election officials instructed not to immediately comply with judge’s order on absentee ballots

A Nashville judge has ordered the state to start issuing absentee ballots to any registered voter who requests one, but State Election Coordinator Mark Goins is telling local officials not to immediately comply.

According to Goins:

Regarding the court’s decision, until we provide further instructions, do not send out any absentee applications. We may be sending a revised form. Do not update your own forms or language on your website yet. It is very important that we have uniform language. We are working on language for our website.  In the meantime, we expect a request for stay to put the ruling on hold as soon as possible […]

If a voter calls and asks for an application because of COVID-19, go ahead and take their information so you can send them a form later with the revised language if we update the form or a stay is not granted.

That appears to conflict with Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s order, which enjoined election officials from enforcing previous rules and mandated that they “prominently post on their websites and disseminate to County Election Officials that voters who do not wish to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 virus situation are eligible to request an absentee ballot by mail or that such voters still have the option to vote in-person during Early voting or on Election Day.”

The decision to hold off on putting the order into effect is reminiscent of Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement that he would continue to urge parents to apply for school voucher while the state appealed a ruling that found the law unconstitutional. The judge later denied a motion to lift her stay and berated the Education Department for failing to inform potential applicants about the legal challenge on its website.

Update from the AP’s Jonathan Mattise:

“The state’s order is clear,” said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which filed one of three similar lawsuits. “This kind of obstruction and defiance is intended to have one purpose — making it harder for people to vote.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Goins said state officials “have communicated to counties that they should maintain requests related to COVID-19 in a way that will allow them to be processed in compliance with the trial court order and any further orders in the case. We are also in the process of updating our website with further guidance in accordance with the order.”

In the email, Goins also told local officials not to update their own forms or put anything on their website about the expansion under the court ruling while his office works on language for its website.

Later on Friday, the Secretary of State’s Office posted the following notice on its early voting page:

[The headline has been updated to add the word ‘immediately’ to add context included in his statement.]

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