Tre Hargett

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.

Hargett signs letter opposing federal voting bill

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)

Tennessee’s Tre Hargett has signed onto a letter from from Republican secretaries of state opposing legislation in congress aiming to set national voting guidelines. The letter is written by John Merrill of Alabama and signed by 15 other top state election officials.

The letter comes as Tennessee’s Attorney General Herbert Slatery has also joined Republican colleagues from other states in opposing the legislation.

Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and House Minority Leader McCarthy:

We are writing you today to urge you to reject the “For the People Act” otherwise known as H.R. 1 or S. 1, which is a dangerous overreach by the federal government into the administration of elections.

Each state legislature should have the freedom and flexibility to determine practices that best meet the needs of their respective states. A one-size-fits-all approach mandated by Congress is not the solution to any of our problems.

These bills intrude upon our constitutional rights, and further sacrifice the security and integrity of the elections process. We firmly believe the authority to legislate and regulate these changes should be left with the states.

H.R. 1 and S. 1 blatantly undermine the extensive work we, as election officials, have completed in order to provide safe, accessible voting options for our constituencies. Many of the proposed practices would reverse the years of progress that has been made. We are strongly opposed to these bills and hope you will dismiss efforts to advance this legislation.

Thank you for your consideration and attention to this matter.

/SIGNED/

John H. Merrill
Alabama Secretary of State

Kevin Meyer
Alaska Lieutenant Governor

Brad Raffensperger
Georgia Secretary of State

Connie Lawson
Indiana Secretary of State

Scott Schwab
Kansas Secretary of State

Michael Adams
Kentucky Secretary of State

Kyle Ardoin
Louisiana Secretary of State

Bob Evnen
Nebraska Secretary of State

Alvin A. Jaeger
North Dakota Secretary of State

Steve Barnett
South Dakota Secretary of State

Tre Hargett
Tennessee Secretary of State

Mac Warner
West Virginia Secretary of State

Ed Buchanan
Wyoming Secretary of State

New Library and Archives building to open April 13

A rendering of the Tennessee State Library and Archives Building (Image credit: Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office)

The new Tennessee State Library and Archives building is scheduled to open on April 13. Secretary of State Tre Hargett is organizing a parade for the transfer of Tennessee first three constitutions to the new facility on Monday.

The $124 million structure — which some critics have dubbed the Taj Ma-Hargett — has been under construction since 2017. It is located across from the new Tennessee State Museum on Bicentennial Mall.

The Archives are under the jurisdiction of the legislative branch of government, while the museum falls under the aegis of the executive branch.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee State Library and Archives, TSLA, is scheduled to open to the public on April 13, 2021, in its new location on the northeast corner of the Bicentennial Mall at the intersection of Rep. John Lewis Way N. and Jefferson St.

“It is an exciting time for TSLA as we are only weeks away from opening the doors to this important resource for our great state,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “This state-of-the-art facility will ensure Tennessee’s history will be properly preserved and accessible for generations to come.”

After more than a year of preparation, TSLA staff started moving and installing collections and exhibits in the new building at the beginning of February.

“Countless hours of planning by our staff has gone into carefully and thoughtfully transporting our historical documents, manuscripts and collections,” said Chuck Sherrill, Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist.

“Thanks to the dedication of our staff and the professionalism of our moving contractor, most of the 500,000 books and 40,000 boxes of archival material in our collection will be available for Tennesseans when we open our doors in April.”

The new 165,000 square foot facility includes a climate-controlled chamber for safely storing historic books and manuscripts with a space-saving robotic retrieval system. A new blast freezer will allow TSLA staff to help save materials damaged by water or insects following floods and other disasters. The new facility also has classrooms for student groups and meeting space for training librarians and archivists.

The larger and more technologically advanced building is a major upgrade from TSLA’s current 1950s era home. The new facility has the much needed space to properly house collections, improved climate controls and increased handicapped access. The extra space and efficiency will increase TSLA’s capacity by nearly 40 percent from 542,700 to 759,500 items.

The 110th General Assembly approved funding in 2017 and 2018 for the new facility. Although the project timeline was adjusted slightly after the March 2020 tornados, construction remained within the $123.8 million budget.

A ribbon cutting event will be held on April 12, with virtual viewing details forthcoming. The new building will open to the public with limited capacity due to COVID-19 safe precautions on April 13.

For the latest information about the new building opening, follow the TSLA’s social media channels: Facebook: Tennessee State Library and Archives and Instagram: @tnlibarchives along with the Secretary of State’s Twitter account: @SecTreHargett.

About the Tennessee State Library and Archives
The office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett oversees the operations of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. By law, it is required to preserve Tennessee’s legal and civic history by housing the archives of state government and collections of records from families, churches, businesses and organizations. TSLA is home to many notable historic documents including Tennessee’s Constitutions, letters from Tennessee’s three presidents, Civil War diaries, records of 55 past Governors of the State and original records and maps of the State of Franklin. The collections include copies of virtually every book published about Tennessee and Tennesseans. Original documents from court cases and legislation along with audio recordings of legislative proceedings since 1955 are preserved by TSLA. Copies of the records from every Tennessee courthouse and all surviving Tennessee newspapers can also be viewed in the library’s collections.

Update: Dems force vote, abstain on re-election of Secretary of State Hargett

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)

Tennessee Democrats objected to re-electing Secretary of State Tre Hargett by acclamation, forcing a roll call vote on another four-year term. Hargett went on to win 112 votes out of a possible 132.

The move by Democrats was largely symbolic, as Republican supermajorities in both chambers.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the secretary of state used the power of his office to undermine voter safety and kill bipartisan election reforms that would have made voting easier and more accessible to all Tennesseans,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro said in a statement. “We cannot, in good conscience, support his appointment to a new four-year term.”

The joint convention also re-elected David Lillard as treasurer and voted for Jason Mumpower to succeed Justin Wilson as comptroller.

Here’s the full release from the Democrats:


NASHVILLE – Democratic leadership in the General Assembly will cast a vote of no confidence on Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s nomination for a new four-year term citing his office’s record of pushing anti-democratic legislation and repeated court losses.

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly will appoint a secretary of state during a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives today.

Democratic leaders from both chambers say they expect the secretary of state to a be figure who unites lawmakers around proposals that make it safer and easier for people to vote, regardless of party or zip code.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the secretary of state used the power of his office to undermine voter safety and kill bipartisan election reforms that would have made voting easier and more accessible to all Tennesseans,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the Senate minority leader, said. “We cannot, in good conscience, support his appointment to a new four-year term.”

“Tennessee has become one of the most difficult states to cast a vote in and, as a result, voter participation in Tennessee is among the worst in the nation,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Karen Camper said. “Our secretary of state should be a champion for voters, a leader who is consistently committed to ensuring every eligible voter has an equal chance to participate in our elections.”

“Too often over his tenure, Secretary Hargett’s office has entangled the state in costly and unnecessary lawsuits,” Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said. “Instead of pushing unconstitutional legislation that suppresses the vote and wastes our resources, we should be working in partnership to address real problems, like updating the many outdated and corruptible voting machines throughout the state.”

“Despite the outcome of today’s vote, our caucuses will continue working on common sense reforms that empower voters and protect our elections,” Sen. Raumesh Akbari, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said. “Voter registration should be automatic. Every voter should have the option to vote by mail. Every voter should be able to verify their votes on a paper ballot. We can make a lot of progress quickly if we work together.

Tennessee sets new voter turnout record

A record number of Tennessee voters cast ballots in this year’s general election.

Here’s a release from Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office with the details:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A record-breaking 3,045,401 Tennesseans, or over 68 percent of active and inactive registered voters, cast ballots in-person during early voting and on Election Day or absentee by-mail in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Voter turnout and participation handily beat the previous record set during the 2008 presidential election when 2,618,238 cast their ballots.

“For months, our office has worked with election commissions and health officials across the state to ensure that in-person voting was clean, safe and secure,” said Secretary Hargett. “Traditionally, Tennesseans prefer to vote in-person. We’ve said it for months, and yet again, voters showed their confidence in the safety precautions in place and their preference to cast a ballot in-person by showing up in record numbers at the polls.”

Counties must submit certified election results to the Division of Elections by Monday, Nov. 23.

Unofficial election results are available on our website at elections.tn.gov.

“We would not have seen the record numbers of voters have such a smooth voting experience during a pandemic without the months and countless hours of planning by Tennessee’s 95 election commissions, administrators, and staff,” said Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins. “Thanks to the roughly 17,000 poll officials who stepped up to serve their communities and carry out all the planning to provide Tennesseans with a safe and secure in-person voting experience.”

Tennessee also broke the early and absentee by-mail turnout record during the two-week early voting period in this election. A comprehensive report of in-person and absentee by-mail turnout during early voting by county with comparisons to 2016 and 2012 is available on GoVoteTN.com.

Early voting passes 1M mark in Tennessee

Campaign signs outside an early voting location in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

More than 1 million Tennesseans have cast ballots through the first six days of early early voting. Those figures are up 47% compared with the same period in 2016.

Here’s the details from Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Through the sixth day of early voting in Tennessee, 1,085,384 voters have cast their ballot for the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“The massive turnout shows Tennesseans’ confidence in the safety precautions taken by county election commissions,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “As I visit early voting sites across the state, I continue to see elections officials doing a great job helping voters cast a ballot in a smooth and efficient process.”
Statewide, there is nearly a 47 percent increase of in-person and absentee by-mail voters compared to 2016, with each county reporting higher numbers than ever before.
“At this rate, we are on pace to break the state’s previous early voting turnout record, set during the last presidential election,” said Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins.
Early voting for the State and Federal General election runs Monday to Saturday until Thursday, Oct. 29. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Tennessee voters can find their early voting and Election Day hours, polling locations and more with the GoVoteTN app or online at GoVoteTN.com. The GoVoteTN app is free to download in the App Store or Google Play.
While visiting the polls, Tennesseans are encouraged to wear a face covering and maintaining a six-foot distance from poll officials and other voters.
Voters planning to vote early or on Election Day will need to bring valid photo identification to the polls. A Tennessee driver license or photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Tennessee state government or the federal government are acceptable even if they are expired. College student IDs are not acceptable. More information about what types of ID are acceptable can be found on sos.tn.gov or by calling toll free 1-877-850-4959.
Tennessee state law requires polling locations and the area within a 100-foot boundary surrounding each entrance to remain campaign-free zones. This includes the display or distribution of campaign materials and the solicitation of votes for or against any person, party or question on the ballot in these areas. Voters wearing campaign-related clothing or paraphernalia will not be allowed within the 100-foot boundary.
For early voting turnout updates, follow the Secretary of State’s social media channels Twitter: @SecTreHargett, Facebook: Tennessee Secretary of State and Instagram: @tnsecofstate.
For more information about early voting in Tennessee, go to GoVoteTN.com or call the Division of Elections toll-free at 1-877-850-4959.

Early voting turnout well ahead of 2016 so far

Here is a look at turnout in early voting in Tennessee by our favorite political mapmaker Don Johnson.

Shelby County has seen one of the biggest increases compared with four years ago, while the suburban counties around Nashville have been among those with the largest percentage of their registered voters casting their ballots early.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office says 249,302 more voters have cast early ballots so far than in 2016, a 52% increase.

One week left to register for November election

The deadline to register for the Nov. 3 election is one week away. Here’s a release from Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office laying out the particulars:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennesseans who want to vote in the Nov. 3 State and Federal General Election only have one week until the voter registration deadline on Monday, Oct. 5.

“To make your voice heard at the polls on Election Day, you need to register to vote,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “With the convenience of our online voter registration system, it’s never been easier or safer for Tennesseans to register to vote or update their registration.”

Registering to vote, updating your address or checking your registration status is fast, easy and secure with the Secretary of State’s online voter registration system. Any U.S. citizen with a driver’s license or a photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security can register online from any computer or mobile device at GoVoteTN.com.

Voters can also download a paper voter registration application at GoVoteTN.com.

Completed paper voter registration applications must be submitted or postmarked to your local county election commission office by Oct. 5. 

Election Day registration is not available. 

Early voting for the Nov. 3 election starts Wednesday, Oct. 14, and runs Monday to Saturday until Thursday, Oct. 29.

Voters can find early voting and Election Day polling locations, view and mark sample ballots and much more at GoVoteTN.com or on the free GoVoteTN app available in the App Store and Google Play.

For the latest information on the Nov. 3 election, follow the Secretary of State’s social media channels Twitter: @SecTreHargett, Facebook: Tennessee Secretary of State and Instagram: @tnsecofstate. For more information about registering to vote, voter eligibility, photo IDs, and other Election Day details visit GoVoteTN.com or call the Division of Elections toll-free at 1-877-850-4959.

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.