Agreement reached in League of Women Voters lawsuit against state, Davidson Co election officials

By: - November 4, 2022 5:34 pm
(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)


More than 200 Davidson County voters given the wrong ballots during early voting will have the opportunity to cast provisional ballots, the ACLU of Tennessee said late Friday in announcing a legal agreement reached with the Tennessee Secretary of State, the Davidson County Election Commission and Governor Bill Lee shortly after a filing a lawsuit.

Special paper ballots will be available to anyone wrongly grouped in the incorrect district as part of the agreement, the announcement said. And the state has agreed to conduct a full audit of the election to ensure similar errors are prevented going forward.

The announcement came shortly after the League of Women Voters and two Nashville voters, represented by attorneys with the ACLU Foundation of Tennessee, filed suit in Davidson County Chancery Court.

“Today’s victory ensures that Davidson County residents’ constitutional right to cast a ballot in the districts where they live is protected,” ACLU-TN Legal Director Stella Yarbrough said in the statement.

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The League of Women Voters, and two Nashville residents given incorrect ballots during early voting, filed suit late Friday against the Davidson County Election Commission, state election officials and Gov. Bill Lee.

The lawsuit seeks an emergency temporary injunction requiring election officials to identify each voter misidentified or miscategorized as a result of redistricting, including voters who have the wrong state or federal congressional district listed on their voter card and voters who live in split districts who may be at-risk for being given the wrong ballot.

“Issuance of incorrect ballots – that is, ballots to elect state and federal congressional representatives in districts in which the voter does not reside – constitutes a denial of the fundamental right of suffrage and is therefore unconstitutional,” the lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, said.

The League of Women Voters, represented by attorneys with the ACLU Foundation of Tennessee, are asking a judge to issue an emergency order requiring state and Davidson County election officials to notify voters in newly redrawn districts who have not yet cast a ballot of their correct state and federal districts and voting precincts and “assure identified voters they will receive assistance as needed in obtaining the correct ballot on Election Day.”

And it asks that those voters who already voted, after being given an incorrect ballot, be allowed to vote using a correct ballot on Election Day, or – in the alternative – to be given a provisional ballot that would ultimately be counted after legal issues are resolved.

The lawsuit also seeks an immediate order that poll workers in each precinct in Davidson County be educated about the errors that have occurred and how to assist impact voters.

The complaint contends “hundreds, if not thousands, of Davidson County voters will be unable to vote on November 8” – Election Day – “due to (election officials’) failure to issue correct ballots.”

The complaint does not make clear why so many ballots are allegedly at risk, but it notes that a lack of transparency and action by election officials to publicly identify the source of the errors raises questions and voter cards issued by the Davidson County Elections Commission may contain incorrect information.

That was the case with Anna Carella, a voter who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. According to the lawsuit: the Comptroller’s office listed Carella as residing in Congressional District 7, but her Davidson County election card listed her as residing in District 6.  When she arrived at her early voting location on Oct. 27, she was given a ballot to vote in Congressional District 6.

When she turned to the Secretary of State’s website on October 29, it listed Carella as living in District 6. By Nov. 3, the Secretary of State’s website listed her as living in District 7.

Carella resides in District 7, the lawsuit notes.

The “Davidson County Election Commission has not publicly identified the cause of the misidentification of voters, nor has it undertaken efforts to contact those voters who may be affected,” court filings said.

“Likewise, sources from the State Comptroller’s Office, Secretary of State, and Davidson County Election Commission, continue to be in conflict, leaving voters with no ability to determine whether they have received the correct ballot when they vote. Given this lack of action and clarity on behalf of the Defendants, further denial of the right to vote to potentially thousands of voters is extremely likely.”

On Wednesday, Davidson County Elections Administrator Jeff Roberts said that 212 voters were given the wrong ballot during early voting, a result of incorrectly assigning some residents after district lines were redrawn.

Roberts said the errors has been identified and fixed.

No court date has yet been set to hear the motion by the League of Women Voters.

LOWV Lawsuit by Anita Wadhwani on Scribd

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.