associated press

AP: State election coordinator’s memo served as basis for judge ouster resolution

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins helped lay the groundwork for a controversial resolution to oust a respected Nashville judge for a ruling to expand access to absentee voting during the pandemic, according to public records obtained by the AP’s Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise.

Goins sent a five-page memo outlining his complaints about Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle to Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), the sponsor of the resolution that would gain as many as 67 cosponsors before it was killed in a House subcommittee last week. Goins said he wrote the memo at Rudd’s request about a month before the resolution was filed.

According to emails obtained by the AP, Rudd’s assistant sent a Jan. 20 email saying the lawmaker was “in need of verbiage and information for this resolution.” According to Goins’ memo:

“Chancellor Lyle issued numerous orders and expressed her opinion ranging from ordering ministerial checklists, destroying accurate election documents, using her specific language for instructions and websites, to challenging statutory language regarding voting fraud. The practical effect was she became the de facto Coordinator of Elections when it came to voting by-mail.”

Goins also took issue with Lyle’s “tone” during proceedings.

Lyle in June told Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office “shame on you” for taking matters into its own hands by modifying her absentee balloting order without first seeking approval from the court. Goins the previous week had told county election commissions to “hold off” on following Lyle’s order while his office revised application forms and sought a stay.

The state’s creation of a new category for voters unwilling to risk their health was criticized as sowing uncertainty about whether ballots would be counted if the decision is later overturned. While Lyle declined plaintiffs’ motion to impose sanctions for the unauthorized changes, she ordered the state to revise its forms to include concerns over COVID-19 among the existing qualifications for people too ill to vote in person. If her ruling isn’t followed, she warned, criminal contempt proceedings could follow.

“Chancellor publicly chastised defendants saying, ‘Shame on You’ and threatened criminal contempt,” Goins wrote. “However, Chancellor Lyle did not ‘shame’ or ‘threaten to hold in contempt’ the multiple plaintiffs who voted in-person even though they signed a verified complaint under oath in her court saying they did not want to risk their health by voting in-person and needed to vote by mail.”

Goins and Hargett promoted news coverage of the plaintiffs’ decisions to vote in person while the lawsuit was going on.

Read the full AP story here.