Tullahoma State Sen. Janice Bowling recently introduced legislation that would have eliminated the early voting period and un-digitized the voting process for all Tennesseans.
However, Bowling pulled the bill on Tuesday before the issue could be voted on.
Bowling filed the bill (SB1510) for introduction in the Tennessee General Assembly on Feb. 11.
According to Bowling, the impetus for filing the fill was to address concerns over the integrity of the state’s elections.
“There are a lot of people across the nation, but also right here in Tennessee that are concerned that the integrity of the vote is compromised, partly due to the electronics,” she said.
The text of the bill said that county election commissions “shall not use voting machines” and instead must use specially watermarked paper ballots for all elections.
“Elections must be conducted using watermarked paper ballots that are hand-marked by the voter,” the bill reads, in addition to removing all references to the early voting period.
“I like to think there’s nobody in Tennessee that would create any mischief, but this is part of the genesis of this legislation: to restore the integrity of the ballot and make sure that no one is disenfranchised; to eliminate any possibility of that disenfranchisement or lack of integrity in the ballot,” she said.
Bowling added that she has heard concerns from constituents, including engineers at AEDC at Arnold Air Force Base, that electronic voting machines contain vulnerabilities.
“Once anything is on a computer, whether it’s connected to the internet or not, it can be hacked into,” she alleged. “Votes can be switched. Votes can be eliminated. There’s just a lot of room for mischief.”
No evidence of widespread voter fraud has been found in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.
On eliminating the early voting period, Bowling said it would be a return to a past way of conducting elections.
“There was a time in the not-too-distant past where we didn’t have early votes,” she said. “People went to their precinct on Election Day and they cast their ballot, which is one of the most important things citizens can do.”
According to information from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, more than 2 million Tennesseans cast their ballots during the two-week early voting period in 2020.
More than 3 million total Tennesseans cast their ballot in the presidential race with Donald Trump winning the state by more than 700,000 votes but losing the national election to Joe Biden by a final Electoral College margin of 306-232.
Eliminating the early voting period would limit Tennessee to only voting on Election Day, which is slated for the first Tuesday in November during election years, reducing the number of days Tennesseans could cast their ballots from 15 to one.
Early voting was introduced to Tennessee 27 years ago with the Tennessee Early Voting Act, which granted Tennesseans the right to cast their ballots for 15 days prior to Election Day.
Since its passage, early voting in Tennessee has typically taken place from 20 days before Election Day to five before.
Bowling said while a generation of people have grown up where it’s supposed to be convenient to cast their ballots either during the early voting period or on Election Day, it was more important that the integrity of the vote be secured.
“There are a lot of concerns that people might have,” she said. “I’ve heard from a few people with concerns, and I’ve heard from many people who like this idea.”
Going back to solely voting on Election Day would not be new to many Tennesseans, Bowling added.
“You have birthdays and holidays that are one day, so it’s not a foreign thing” she said. “Many states already allow paper-ballot voting.”
Additionally, Bowling said having voters cast their ballots only at their respective precincts would likely reduce lines at the polls.
“When you’re in your own precinct, you’ve got a smaller number of voters available to vote that day than if you were aggregating the votes at one polling place or two polling places for all the early votes,” she said. “Some precincts are smaller than others, and there might be a reason to divide precincts or something if there is excessive wait times. I don’t anticipate (longer) wait times.”
Bowling’s bill did not address Election Day hours, however, so voting hours would have remained the same under SB1510.
She did, however, say she would be open to introducing legislation in the next session of the General Assembly that would address voting hours by extending them if needed.
“I would have no trouble with that: increasing the voting hours earlier and later so that people getting off work (can vote),” she said.
Additionally, Bowling said there had been discussion about another legislator introducing legislation to make Election Day a holiday in Tennessee, though she did had not seen that bill by the State Senate’s filing deadline.
Another aspect of the bill, Bowling said, was it would have allowed candidates more time to get their messages out to voters.
“A lot of people haven’t gotten their message out between almost the end of August and to the middle of October,” she said. “I think that, as a candidate, going back to an Election Day (vote) helps each candidate get their message out and know that people can make an informed decision.”
On her bill, Bowling said it was “not the disruptive, terrible thing a few people have considered it would be” and contained “more positives than negatives.”
“Most people who have commented on it, they really like it,” she said. “It restores the importance of Election Day, the importance of the candidates to get their message out and have time to get their message out and the importance of the people to be able to make their determinations.”