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John Prine's wife advocates for absentee voting after husband died of coronavirus

Matthew Leimkuehler, Nashville Tennessean

Fiona Whelan Prine, widow to late singer-songwriter John Prine, on Tuesday urged Tennessee lawmakers to expand absentee voting during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

Of 16 states that require a legal reason for absentee voting, Tennessee is one of five yet to address ballot casting during the health crisis. 

Whelan Prine asked state Senate representatives to not put Tennesseans at health risk to exercise voting rights. 

"This is not or should it be a partisan issue," Whelan Prine said to the Senate's State and Local Government committee. "This is a serious health issue. And you, as our representatives, must advocate for our health, our safety and our right to participate in our American political process." 

John Prine died April 7 from COVID-19 complications, nearly two weeks after being hospitalized with the virus. He was 73. 

Whelan Prine tested positive for the coronavirus in March, recovering shortly before her husband's death. In her address, Whelan Prine detailed the emotional and physical toll of COVID-19 on her family. 

Fiona Whelan Prine, whose husband John Prine died of coronavirus complications, is urging Tennessee lawmakers to allow absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

"From March 26 until April 7, I waited at home for daily updates from the hospital as John lay alone without me or our boys by his bedside as this virus ravaged his body," Whelan Prine said. "I was given the opportunity to sit with him in the final hours of his life. He was unrecognizable from the man I had left at the doors of the Vanderbilt ER, only 12 days later." 

She continued, "I do not wish this pain and trauma on any other American family, especially my fellow Tennesseans. As this virus continues to devastate the country and we await the approval of a safe vaccine, I am highly concerned that in November we will force people to choose between their health and constitutional right to vote." 

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Voters in Tennessee must use one of 14 legal excuses to cast an absentee ballot. Excuses that qualify a Tennessee voter for an absentee ballot include being a military member or overseas citizen, being age 60 or older, living with a physical disability and being ill or taking care of an ill person. 

Senate committee members introduced Tuesday an amendment to an existing bill that would allow absentee expansion in the November election for voters who fear contracting the coronavirus. 

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In a media briefing last week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee doubled down on opposition to widespread mail-in voting.

"I don't think we need to have, and I would not advocate for, no-excuse absentee voting," Lee said. "That's not necessary in our state. What's necessary is we provide the opportunity for absentee voting where it's needed." 

Whelan Prine concluded her time by pleading for lawmakers not to put citizens at risk. 

"After experiencing this virus personally, and losing my husband to it, I urge you to make us the 46th state to ensure our citizens' right to vote safely by temporarily expanding absentee voting in this great state."

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: John Prine's wife urges absentee voting during coronavirus pandemic