Democrats Just Sued Tennessee to Keep Polls Open Late After a Tornado Ripped Through Nashville

Tornadoes damaged 21 polling stations in the city, and polls opened an hour late.
March 3, 2020, 10:52pm
A man walks through storm debris following a deadly tornado Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.

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All four major Democratic candidates sued Tennessee on Super Tuesday to demand that polls stay open for three extra hours, until 10 p.m. After tornadoes damaged 21 polling stations in Nashville, the state’s largest city, they’re worried some voters won’t be able to cast their ballots.

Tennessee is one of 14 states where voters cast their ballots for a Democratic presidential nominee on Tuesday, making it the most consequential day of voting in the primary race. But just hours before the city’s residents headed to the polls Tuesday morning, tornado sirens went off across the state. In Nashville, deadly winds overturned cars, blew the roofs off dozens of homes, and left more than 45,000 people were left without power. The start of voting was delayed by an hour at some polling places.


“In no way is Nashville properly prepared to carry out an election today,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We need to focus on people’s health and recovery and loss of life. It is not reasonable to expect people in this devastated region of Nashville to be able to meaningfully access the polls.”

Although the damaged polling places were relocated and some voters were ultimately still able to cast their ballots, a judge ruled that polling stations in Nashville had to stay open later than their normal closing time of 7 p.m.

At least 22 people are dead across the state — a figure that’s expected to climb as emergency workers continue to dig through rubble. Crews had already worked through the morning to rescue people trapped under the debris.

“In no way is Nashville properly prepared to carry out an election today.”

Throughout the day, some voters were too busy dealing with the devastation from the tornadoes or trying to find unaccounted-for loved ones to make it to the polls, according to Clarke. Others had lost their IDs and therefore couldn’t vote or couldn’t access the internet, due to power outages, to get information about where their new polling site had moved to. Clarke’s organization is manning an Election Day hotline that voters can call if they have trouble voting.

“We’ve actually deployed generators to polling places that are reporting that they don’t have power,” Republican Gov. Bill Lee said at a press conference. “We’re going to make it possible for as many folks as we can to vote.”


Still, Clarke’s organization sent a letter to the governor, the secretary of state, and the elections coordinator, demanding that the state extend voting through the end of the week, at least. If the state doesn’t agree to extend voting, they may sue as well.

“We’re prepared to use every tool in our arsenal,” she told VICE News.

Despite the damage to the city, lines stretched around the block at some of the polling places open in Nashville, where many of the state’s Democratic voters live, and several voters told VICE News they were still able to cast their ballots. Tennessee has a two-week period of early voting, and some voters had cast their ballots before Tuesday.

“We averted a civic catastrophe today because we have good voting laws,” said Christopher Hale, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018 in Tennessee’s 4th Congressional district.

Some of those early voters, however, cast their ballots for candidates who have now dropped out, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Even if voting were extended through the end of the week, those folks are stuck having voted for candidates who aren’t in the race.

Cover: A man walks through storm debris following a deadly tornado Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Tornadoes ripped across Tennessee early Tuesday, shredding buildings and killing multiple people. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)