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NASHVILLE – Experts from across the country and the political spectrum joined ThinkTennessee and over 100 participants today to discuss how Covid-19 is impacting this year’s elections and to consider policy solutions that could give Tennessee voters the freedom to choose the method of voting that works best for them and their families.

The virtual panel event featured Nashville Coronavirus Taskforce Director Dr. Alex Jahangir, former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and Hart Research Associates Pollster Jeff Horwitt. These experts shared their expectations that the coronavirus will still be a public health concern this fall and considered why temporary changes like expanded absentee voting will be needed to ensure no voter is forced to risk her health in order to cast her ballot in November.

“One of the biggest things that we all have to come to terms with is that this is the ‘new normal’ until there is a vaccine, which is at least 18 months away in the best-case scenario,” said Dr. Jahangir. “Public health is at risk if we don’t plan for reopening safely, including scheduling elections.”

Lieutenant Governor Barnes described the impact of Covid-19 on Wisconsin’s recent elections, including a shortage of poll workers and a drastic reduction in polling places, calling the situation preventable. “Voters had an impossible choice –whether to sacrifice their health or discard their right to vote,” he said. “This is something that should have never happened.”

Public sentiment, said pollster Jeff Horwitt, is strongly in favor of temporarily expanding absentee voting. He noted that “three in five voters across the country favor voting by mail for the 2020 election.”

Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson tackled the issue of partisanship, noting that Kentucky leaders on both sides of the aisle recently came together to temporarily expand absentee voting during its primary. As a Republican, said Grayson, “I’m not a huge fan of vote-by-mail, except for in the middle of a pandemic. I’m a fan right now because we need to do it.”

ThinkTennessee also presented key findings from its new report, Voting During the Pandemic:

  • This election year, Tennessee is one of just a handful of states that will require most voters to appear in person to cast a ballot.
  • Up to $55 million in federal funding, some of which must be spent on the coronavirus response, is available to make new investments in Tennessee elections.
  • Temporarily expanding absentee voting would help protect voters and poll workers during the pandemic and would cost Tennessee only a portion of the federal elections funding it currently has on hand.
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