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Tennessee bill would change absentee ballot application deadline

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(The Center Square) – Tennessee’s Senate passed a bill this week that would require voters to request an absentee ballot 10 days before an election instead of the current seven days.

Senate sponsor Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, said the intent of the bill is to have more absentee ballots counted. In a recent Knoxville mayoral election, he said that only two of the 32 absentee ballots requested seven days before the election were returned in time to be counted.

Tennessee does not allow the hand delivery of absentee ballots and requires ballots to arrive via mail before polls close on Election Day. The state also requires a reason for requesting a ballot, such as being 60 years of age, outside of the county on Election Day or caring for a sick or disabled relative.

Senate Bill 1967 would take effect on Nov. 6, 2024 after passing the Senate 27-6. The House version of the bill was scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee. It would have to be passed by the House and sent to Gov. Bill Lee for his signature before becoming law.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, asked Briggs to confirm the intent of the bill was to have more votes counted, not less, and he did.

Briggs said that first-class mail delivery standards changed for the U.S. Postal Service in October 2021, which impacts the timeline of having mail delivered and led to issues returning absentee ballots on time.

“There are other ways to go about changing this that would actually provide and expand ballot access as opposed to constraining the time that voters could have to take advantage of this,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville.

Yarbo suggested Tennessee change the law on hand delivery of ballots.

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, encouraged Yarbro to file a bill next session to further expand ballot access.

“He’s making it more likely for your vote to be counted,” Yager said.

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