JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – He may be 74, but Navy veteran Karl Sorenson is not in the least supportive of allowing all Tennessee registered voters to vote by mail during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
It’s a different story for David Salinas, who’s in his 30s and lives just a few blocks from Sorenson.
Both are registered voters who plan to vote this year. Their opinions reveal the split over broadening vote by mail to all voters, which Ellen Hobbs Lyle, a chancellor in Davidson County, said the state must do as long as the public health emergency persists.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett had resisted appeals to relax the standards for absentee voting by mail, citing cost and logistical concerns. Hargett contended fears about COVID-19 weren’t sufficient reason for just anyone to qualify to have election officials mail them an absentee ballot.
“Once again I’m disappointed by our judiciary,” Sorenson said. “Their activism doesn’t please me at all. That’s not the way the constitution of the state of Tennessee reads to me, but then I’m not an attorney or a judge or anything, I’m just one of those citizens who is trying to participate as best I can.”
Sorenson said he has concerns about voter fraud, and that he believes worries about COVID-19 are overblown and fanned by what he called the mainstream media. He said he thinks Lyle’s ruling is a Trojan Horse.
“COVID 19 is not a reason to do that, I think they’re just trying to change the way voting takes place in the state of Tennessee,” he said.
Salinas disagrees, both in general and as it relates to COVID-19.
“If you’re gonna send me my federal refund and my social security income and my paychecks and everything else by mail and legal documents through certified mail, yeah, absolutely, I don’t see how this is any different,” he said.
His parents are in their 60s and are caring for his 96-year-old grandmother. Tennessee law does allow people over 60 to vote absentee without another reason, but he said people of any age who are caring for older people in this health climate have good reason to vote by mail.
“They’ve essentially locked themselves in the house,” Salinas said. “They’ll go out maybe once a month to get groceries.”
More than 30 states allow voting by mail anytime. The majority of those that do not have chosen to allow it this year. A federal judge in Texas overruled state officials there who had opted not to allow universal voting by mail.
WJHL reached out to area election administrators, who referred us to a state spokesperson. She did not return an email request sent Friday morning. One administrator said they had been instructed not to begin preparing a change to accommodate Lyle’s ruling until further guidance from Hargett’s office.
Sorenson said he’s concerned about voter fraud increasing if vote by mail rules are relaxed.
“How do you guarantee that the right person is voting if you don’t see them and they don’t present any identification that shows that they are a registered voter in their (polling) place?” Sorenson said.
Again, Salinas had a different opinion.
“I don’t see how that’s any different than someone going and doing voter fraud in person. Fraud is going to be fraud – if someone’s going to do something fraudulent they’ll do it whether it’s live and in person or through the mail.”
A statement from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office said Lyle’s ruling “failed to appropriately consider the extensive safety measures of the COVID-19 election plan, and, more importantly, gave little weight to the unanimous expertise of state and county election officials that hastily expanding absentee voting is impracticable and risks disenfranchising Tennessee voters.”
Hargett’s office is widely expected to appeal.