Janice Bowling

Sen. Janice Bowling

State Senator Janice Bowling’s bill that would have done away with the state’s early voting option has been taken off the table less than two weeks after it was filed.

State Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) introduced and then pulled legislation that would eliminate the early voting period and un-digitize the voting process for all Tennesseans.

Bowling filed the bill (SB1510) for introduction in the Tennessee General Assembly Feb. 11 then pulled the bill from consideration Tuesday, Feb. 23. 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 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 read, 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 received 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 said. “Votes can be switched. Votes can be eliminated. There’s just a lot of room for mischief.”

Of eliminating the early voting period, Bowling said it was akin to going “Back to the Future,” referencing the 1985 blockbuster.

“There was a time in the not-too-distant past where we didn’t have early vote,” 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. More than 3 million Tennesseans cast their ballot in the presidential race, with former President Donald Trump carrying the state by nearly three quarters of a million more votes than President Joe Biden.

Eliminating the early voting period would have reduced the number of days Tennesseans could cast their ballots from 15 to one during election years.

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 Election Day voting would not be “foreign” 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.”

Staff Writer

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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