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NASHVILLE — After months of listening to political candidates speak or in some instances shout, Tennesseans get their say Thursday as polls open across the state for state and federal primary contests and some county general elections.

Voters are tasked with making decisions ranging from local school board on up to Republican or Democratic party nominees for U.S. Senate.

Polls open at various times, depending on the county. In Hamilton County, polling precincts open at 8 a.m. and operate until 8 p.m. Under state law, polls in all 95 counties close by 8 p.m.

The ballots include general election contests for county school board and property assessor. There are contests in Republican and Democratic primaries for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican.

Other political offices on the primary ballot include all 99 state House seats, 16 of the 32 state Senate seats and all nine of Tennessee's congressional seats. Not all are contested. Winners in primaries move on to the Nov. 3 election.

More than 578,000 Tennesseans already cast their ballot during Tennessee's two weeks of in-person early voting or by mail-in balloting, which ended Saturday, as well as absentee voting, which soared amid the coronavirus pandemic and a Nashville judge's decision relaxing previous restrictions on absentee voting.

If history is any guide, that may account for half or more of the total votes cast in the August election.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Dr. Manny Sethi speaks to the crowd gathered at his field office on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

COVID-19 precautions, ID requirements and voting advice

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, meanwhile, emphasizes that COVID-19 precautions are being taken in all 95 counties. Officials "have spent months preparing for this election to ensure the safety of voters and poll officials," Hargett said. "I encourage voters to do their part on Election Day and follow social distancing protocols and wear a face covering."

Voters, Hargett said, should expect to see signs with safety instructions at their polling locations. Poll officials will be wearing face coverings and are trained in social distancing protocols.

Officials also have this list of what residents must do along with some recommendations to avoid potentially crowded polling stations:

— Voters need to bring valid photo identification to the polls. These include a Tennessee driver license or photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security as well as other forms of ID issued by Tennessee state government or the federal government. All are acceptable, even if they are expired. College student IDs are not acceptable. You can find out more information what what types of ID are acceptable at sos.tn.gov or by calling toll free (877) 850-4959.

— Keep in mind that state law requires polling locations and the area within a 100-foot boundary of the entrance to operate as "campaign-free zones." Tennessee law prohibits the display or distribution of campaign materials as well as the solicitation of votes for or against any person, party or question on the ballot in these areas. Voters wearing campaign-related clothing or paraphernalia will not be allowed within the 100-foot boundary.

— If you have concerns about mixing with crowds, election officials offer this advice: Early morning, noon and 5 p.m. are peak times at the polls, with people often hitting them to vote before work, after work or while on lunch breaks. Being flexible and casting your ballot in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon may shorten your time at your polling location, Hargett and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said.

— Frail, physically disabled or visibly pregnant voters should tell their election officials if they are unable to wait in line to vote. The law allows these voters to move through the process faster.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2020 file photo former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty campaigns for the U.S. Senate in Gallatin, Tenn. In Tennessee's open race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a political group backed by a member of GOP candidate Manny Sethi's campaign is attacking his primary opponent Hagerty and Alexander, calling the two “liberal” and “best friends.” The Conservative Outsiders PAC says the video was sent to more than 300,000 Republican activists and supporters in Tennessee, and said it plans more videos, ads on multiple platforms and ground operations as permitted. The group also set up an anti-Hagerty website. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
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