Fiona Whelan Prine, the wife of beloved late singer-songwriter John Prine, spoke to a Tennessee state Senate panel on Tuesday to urge them to expand absentee voting so citizens would not be required to put their health at risk to exercise their civic duties during the 2020 election cycle.
Whelan Prine’s appeal to Tennessee lawmakers comes just two months after COVID-19 claimed the life of John Prine at the age of 73. Fiona Whelan Prine also contracted COVID-19 but has since recovered.
I appeared Tues. before TN lawmakers,urging that all voters have the option to vote by absentee ballot during this pandemic.Deeply disappointed with the results. Read my full statement & sign the petition to ensure everyone’s safety this Nov. https://t.co/4HzqJVoFfo#VoteSafeTN
— Fiona Whelan Prine (@FionaPrine) June 4, 2020
As Whelan Prine told the Senate panel via video call, “This is not nor should it be a partisan issue. 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 Americana political process. … The threat of contracting COVID-19 is a serious health concern, particularly for those with pre-existing conditions. Voters should not be forced to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote.”
She continued, “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 the virus ravaged his body. … I was given the opportunity to sit with him in the final hours of his life.”
After noting that John Prine was “unrecognizable” to her after twelve days in intensive care, Whelan Prine concluded, “I do not wish this pain and trauma on any other American family, especially not my fellow Tennesseans.”
Whelan Prine’s remarks come as the state of Tennessee continues to resist calls for broadened eligibility for absentee voting amid the ongoing pandemic. While the state allows voting by mail in certain circumstances, Tennessee’s Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told The Associated Press last month that “the fear of getting ill does not fall under the definition of ill,” and therefore is not a valid reason to vote by mail. State officials have said they “cannot feasibly implement” a quick shift to let all voters cast their ballots by mail in the 2020 elections.
Fiona Whelan Prine is far from the only Tennessee resident fighting for vote-by-mail during the pandemic. A Tennessee judge is expected to rule this week on a lawsuit that would allow all voters to cast ballots by mail.
In May, four public health experts from Tennessee joined hundreds of physicians, epidemiologists, and scientists in signing a letter urging Congress to expand voting by mail for the upcoming presidential election in November. As the letter read, “Americans should never again be asked to choose between performing one of the most hallowed obligations and privileges of citizenship—voting for our representatives at the local, state and federal levels—and our health.”
For more information on how to register to vote and get involved in the political process during this important election year, visit HeadCount.org.