Deadly overnight tornadoes delayed the start of Super Tuesday presidential primary voting in Nashville and another Tennessee county, spurring elections officials to redirect voters from some polling places to alternate locations. In a state where a Republican holds every major elected office, including seven of the nine congressional seats, the Democratic primary voting base has a history of being more moderate than that of other states.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story is below.
NASHVILLE — A judge has ruled that Super Tuesday polls will stay open later in Nashville in the wake of deadly overnight tornadoes that delayed the start of voting in the city and rendered some of its polling places unusable.
The Tennessee Democratic Party said Tuesday that it succeeded in a lawsuit against the Davidson County elections commission and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office to extend voting hours in the tornado-stricken county. Four Democratic presidential campaigns are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“This is a victory for all voters and this decision will ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in this historic election,” said Mary Mancini, state Democratic Party chairwoman.
Some polling sites in Nashville’s Davidson County and Wilson County were moved, and sites across the two counties opened an hour late but initially were slated to close at the same time, Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. Gov. Bill Lee said the state has deployed generators to polling stations that have reported that they don’t have power.
Hargett spokeswoman Julia Bruck said only the judge had the authority to make the decision to extend hours.
“We do not have the ability to extend voting hours in Tennessee, and it’s important to note this order only applies to Davidson County,” Bruck said.
Davidson County polls will stay open until 8 p.m. local time, and five polling sites will stay open until 10 p.m.: two available for all voters, and three set aside for voters in precincts who were rerouted due to the storms, the state party said.
Hargett’s office said Davidson County won’t be able to report early voting results until after 10 p.m., while other counties can report their early voting results as their polls close.
At least 25 people were killed by the twisters, which shredded dozens of buildings. One of tornadoes caused severe damage across downtown Nashville.
“Of course we want people to exercise caution in areas like downtown Nashville where there’s damage in the streets and that sort of thing,” Lee said at a news conference Tuesday. “But we also want folks to exercise their rights and get out there and vote. It’s a very important day for that.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said alternate sites were arranged for 15 polling places out of the 169 precincts in Nashville’s combined city-county area.
The disaster has complicated voting in a presidential race reshaped by Joe Biden’s blowout South Carolina win and exits by Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg. Democratic presidential campaigns have continued to make their Super Tuesday case in Tennessee through TV ads and appearances.
The former vice president deployed his wife, Jill Biden, to Tennessee on Sunday for a meet-and-greet in Memphis and a fundraiser in Nashville, then she toured a Nashville middle school Monday morning.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wife, Jane Sanders, spent Wednesday making multiple stops in Nashville. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent actress Ashley Judd to make stops for her in Nashville on Monday. Judd’s scheduled appearances for Election Day were canceled due to the tornadoes.
And billionaire Mike Bloomberg made three stops Friday in Tennessee, speaking in Memphis, Clarksville and Johnson City. The former New York City mayor has made four trips to Tennessee as a candidate — more than any of his rivals — and has hired the most staffers throughout the state. His multimillion-dollar ad campaign in Tennessee has been the easiest to spot on local TV airwaves.
Buttigieg, the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor, held a rally Saturday in Nashville, only to see a dismal outcome in South Carolina and drop out of the presidential race Sunday. Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator, held a Nashville event Friday, then left the contest Monday.
Tennessee’s 73 delegates also could prove vital for candidates needing to show momentum in the rapidly thinning race. Just seven other states will have more delegates than Tennessee on Super Tuesday.
In a state where a Republican holds every major elected office, including seven of the nine congressional seats, the Democratic primary voting base has a history of being more moderate than that of other states.
Even though Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Tom Steyer recently dropped out of contention, they’ll still see their share of votes: More than 169,400 Democratic primary votes in Tennessee were already cast ahead of Tuesday through early and absentee ballots. Early voting began Feb. 12.