Tennessee judge denies request seeking absentee ballot info

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A person drops applications for mail-in-ballots into a mailbox in Omaha, Neb. on August 18, 2020. U.S. Postal Service records show delivery delays have persisted across the country as millions of Americans began voting by mail, raising the possibility of ballots being rejected because they arrive too late. Postal data covering the beginning of October show nearly all of the agency’s delivery regions missing agency targets of having more than having more than 95% of first-class mail arrive within five days. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Democratic officials improperly filed a public records request while seeking last-minute information on voters who have requested an absentee ballot but haven’t returned them yet, a Tennessee judge ruled Monday.

Tennessee’s Democratic Party and the campaign of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Marquita Bradshaw had filed a lawsuit over the weekend accusing state election officials of refusing to release the ballot information as required by state law.

However, Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal in her eight-page ruling found that there was not enough evidence that Democratic officials sent a proper public records requests to the state’s elections office — where Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a Republican, and elections coordinator Mark Goins were named as defendants.

Furthermore, Moskal ruled that the state likely didn’t have the information the Democrats sought.

“There is nothing in the record to demonstrate that the specific voter information requested — regarding absentee voters’ requests for ballots who have not yet submitted their ballots — is compiled by county election commissions and transmitted to the (state’s) Division of Elections,” the judge wrote.

According to lawsuit, the Democrats had alleged that the Secretary of State’s office instructed all 95 county election offices withhold information about voters who have not returned absentee ballots by the end of early voting — which ended last week.

During a Monday hearing, Bradshaw’s campaign conceded they hadn’t requested information from all 95 counties. Instead, they reached out to just five counties: Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Madison and Washington. Knox County was the only one to hand over information.

“As the record showed today in court the lawsuit was based on falsehoods,” said Julia Bruck, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, in a statement. “We did not receive a public records request for the information. We did not deny a public records request. We did not tell counties to deny a public records request.”

Bradshaw faces Republican Bill Hagerty in Tuesday’s election for the seat left open by retiring Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Her campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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