Tre Hargett

Hargett says it will be ‘surprise’ if full results available by end of Election Day

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)

Secretary of State Tre Hargett says it will be a surprise if full results are available by the end of Election Day, according to reporter Hank Hayes of the Kingsport Times-News.

“We’re going to see a spike in absentee ballots. I don’t know how heavy that will be,” Hargett said. “I hope I’m pleasantly surprised like I was in August, when 95 counties had their election results done by midnight.”

The Secretary of State’s office has taken to the courts to try to fend off efforts to expand access to absentee voting during the pandemic.

Early voting starts on Oct. 14 and runs through Oct. 29. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 27. Mail-in ballots must be received via the Postal Service by Election Day in order to be counted.

Hayes pressed Hargett on his plans after the election.

“We’re trying to run an election 50 days from now,” Hargett said. “I am going to ask the legislature to re-elect me for another four-year term in January. I’ve got a lot of work to do. We still see a lot of areas where we think we can do better in. That’s what I’m focused on.”

A joint convention of the General Assembly will vote on the next four-year term for the Secretary of State in January. Hargett, a former state lawmaker, was first elected to the job in 2009. He got into some hot water in 2014 after a staffer reserved a website for a potential gubernatorial bid.

Hargett acknowledged to WTVF-TV at the time it might not have looked good, but said the site had been reserved to protect him from someone else grabbing it. He later announced he wouldn’t run for governor.

Judge orders state to include specific guidance on absentee ballot eligibility due to COVID-19

A judge has ordered Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office to include wording in absentee ballot application forms to make clear that people at greater risk from contracting COVID-19 are eligible to vote by mail.

Nashville Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s ruling Tuesday came after the state Supreme Court agreed to vacate the injunction she had imposed earlier when the state took what the chancellor called the “extraordinary step of a last-minute concession during oral arguments” that people with a special vulnerability to COVID-19 (or those who care for people who do) had a valid reason to cast absentee ballots. Had the state taken this position earlier, Lyle said, the case would have been settled long before it reached the Supreme Court.

The high court’s ruling had instructed Hargett’s office to “ensure that appropriate guidance is provided to Tennessee registered voters” about the state’s new stance. While Hargett issued a press release that included reference to people with a special vulnerability to COVID-19 being able to vote by mail, the new application form included no such information.

As such, Lyle ruled the application forms should now include the following excuses for people seeking to vote by mail:

I am hospitalized, ill or physically disabled and unable to appear at my polling place to vote (this includes persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it).

I am a caretaker of a hospitalized, ill or physically disabled person (this includes caretakers for persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it).

Lyle also deemed that other materials issued by the state on the subject of absentee balloting — such as language highlighted at the bottom of the form offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for voter — to be “confusing and misleading.” But the chancellor said those details fell outside of her purview.

Hargett’s office was critical of the decision.

“It is ironic to us that the same Chancellor who chastised us for changing the form is now upset because we did not change the form,” Hargett spokeswoman Julia Bruck said in an emailed statement. “The Chancellor is legislating from the bench.”

Hedy Weinberg, the exeutive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, lauded the decision:

The court’s ruling today will ensure that people with special vulnerability to COVID-19 and their caretakers know exactly how to request mail-in ballots. The state’s delay in making this information clear is yet another example of voter suppression in Tennessee. Our state should be working to make it as easy as possible for people to vote, not creating obstacles at every turn and requiring a court order to fix them. We applaud the court for compelling the state to make Tennesseans’ voting rights clear and to do so quickly.

Read the ruling here.

Absentee voting: CDC’s high-risk conditions for COVID-19 include obesity, smoking, blood pressure

As part of the state’s concessions on absentee balloting to get the Tennessee Supreme Court to throw out an court order allowing anyone fearful of contracting COVID-19 to vote by mail, officials agreed that anyone with a “special vulnerability” to the virus would be allowed to cast an absentee ballot.

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)

According to guidance released by Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Wednesday, people with an “underlying illness, physical disability, or other health condition and who cannot appear at the polling place on Election Day” can obtain an absentee ballot. That also goes for people who care for someone who does.

The press release urges voters to “consult trusted guidance from medical experts and use common sense in determining whether they have a special vulnerability.” It goes on to suggest looking up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information.

According to the CDC website linked by Hargett’s office, the list of people with increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19 includes:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

The CDC says other conditions that might leave people at an increased risk are:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Smoking
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus

The release from the Secretary of State’s office follows.

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Groups seek to block new Tennessee voter registration law

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), right, gestures at Rep. Cameron Sezton (R-Crossville) in Nashville on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Several groups are seeking to block a new Tennessee law placing restrictions on signing up voters from going into effect, the AP’s Jonathan Mattise reports.

The law, which is presumed to be the only one of its kind in the nation, imposes penalties — both fines and misdemeanor charges — on groups  submitting too many incomplete registrations. The law  is scheduled to take effect in October

The lawsuit was filed in May on behalf of the NCAAP, The Equity Alliance, The Andrew Goodman Foundation and Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities. They argue that while the law purportedly only targets paid groups, it’s an unclear distinctions because many use grant money and pay stipends to workers signing up voters.

“Not only does this law create hurdles that prevent us from helping our community register to vote, it intimidates our members so that they do not want to become officers of the TN NAACP or the local units because they fear criminal penalties and civil fines if they are required to carry out a civic engagement plan that includes voter registration, which they all do,”  Gloria Jean Sweet-Love, president of the  Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, wrote in a legal filing.

Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett has defended the law adding penalties as bolstering election security, noting that up to 10,000 incomplete registration collected by the Tennessee Black Voter Project were submitted in the Memphis area on the last day to submit filings. His office declined to discuss pending litigation.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) and Sen. Ed Jackson (R-Jackson).

 

 

Hargett announces domestic violence safety program

Secreatary of State Tre Hargett has announced that Tennessee will join more than 35 other states in keeping the addresses of victims of domestic violence confidential.

Participants will get a government-managed substitute address that will forward correspondence to them.

Here’s the full release from Hargett’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett today was joined by members of the General Assembly, advocates for domestic violence victims and other stakeholders to announce the introduction of the Tennessee Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program. Tennessee now joins the more than 35 other states offering similar domestic violence safety programs.

Safe at Home launches March 1 and aims to protect Tennessee victims of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking, stalking and other related crimes from their abusers by keeping their address concealed from public records. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), 18 of the 84 domestic violence-related murder victims in Tennessee in 2017 were repeat victims or had reported domestic abuse prior to their deaths.

“Our goal is to shine a bright light on the problem of domestic violence in our state and help protect those Tennesseans who have been victimized from becoming victims again,” Hargett said. “Safe at Home provides victims and their families with a tool to help heal from their abuse, begin new lives and finally feel a sense of security in their communities.”

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First lady Crissy Haslam awarded medallion from national secretaries of state

First lady Crissy Haslam attends a portrait unveiling for Gov. Bill Haslam on Dec. 17, 2018, in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A release from Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Monday presented First Lady Crissy Haslam with the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) Medallion Award for her work to support the Tennessee State Library and Archives and programs to increase early childhood literacy.

“Crissy Haslam has dedicated her time as Tennessee’s first lady to promoting the love of reading to children and families across the state,” Hargett said. “By creating and maintaining a variety of programs, she has continued to engage parents and children with high quality family reading selections, elevate the love of reading, and connect readers with their public libraries.”
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New online TN voter registration officially operational

News release from Secretary of State’s office
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is proud to officially launch the state’s new online voter registration system.

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Online voter registration comes to Tennessee

The Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office has initiated what WPLN calls a “soft launch”of a system that allows Tennesseans to register as voters online, as authorized under a law enacted by the Legislature in 2016 that took effect July 1 of this year.

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Hargett says state law prevents him from turning over requested voter data to Trump commission

A commission set up by President Trump’s administration has asked all 50 states for a list providing the names of all registered voters along with voter information including address, date of birth, political party, the last four digits of their social security number and voter history.

Tennessee is one of at least 27 states – according to a CNN survey – that had publicly declined the request as of Friday. In an email sent to media Friday, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who oversees Tennessee’s election system, said:

“Although I appreciate the commission’s mission to address election-related issues, like voter fraud, Tennessee state law does not allow my office to release the voter information requested to the federal commission.”

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Haslam budget booster amendment: Surplus money for new state library, roads

With his tax package now approved by the legislature, Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday proposed some changes to the 2017-18 state budget plan he presented back in February.

Maybe the most notable revisions are the addition of $55 million in supplemental one-time funding (from the current budget surplus) on road projects — beyond what is envisioned in his tax bill, which includes higher gas and diesel fuel taxes — and $40 million towards the $98 million needed to build a new state Library and Archives building, advocated for years by Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

Both of those proposals are virtually guaranteed approval of the legislature as lawmakers get into serious work on the budget next week. The publicly-released documents don’t say which road projects get the new advance funding (but one could speculate that projects in the districts of legislators who voted no on his proposl might not be a high priority). It also appears that the governor is leaving about $125 million in surplus money for legislators to distribute as they, collectively, decide how to spend.

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