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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Jeremiah Vasterling, left, hands out free meals and water to voters in line for early voting on Thursday at the Hamilton County Election Commission. The food was provided by Neutral Ground, through the Proof Bar and Incubator. Thursday Oct. 29, 2020 was the final day for early voting in Tennessee.

NASHVILLE — County election officials across Tennessee are implementing special coronavirus procedures and accommodations for next week's Nov. 3 general election, to assist voters who either have COVID-19 symptoms, tested positive for it or have been in quarantine following exposure to safely cast in-person ballots.

Hamilton County Election Administrator Scott Allen said that would-be voters should call the election office in advance to tell officials their situation to allow the office to prepare a team of staffers to assist.

Voters will be directed to a specified location outside the Election Commission office at 700 River Terminal Road, just off Amnicola Highway.

The coronavirus pandemic led to an explosion of absentee-by-mail ballots in Tennessee, Georgia and the rest of the U.S. According to Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Election Coordinator Mark Goins, all 95 county election commissions will have a procedure in place for in-person voting this coming Tuesday.

"We will have a team of poll workers that will be in full [personal protective equipment] gear that will go out and get their information, get them a ballot, let them vote from their car or outside from a designated area," Allen said. "They will not enter the building here at the election office for safety reasons."

The team going out to meet the voters will include Hamilton County Health Department representatives "who are familar with dealing with COVID patients," Allen said. "That way they can help assist and stay safe as we vote these individuals who come by."

The commission has contracted with the Health Department for the staffers.

Those casting ballots will use single-use pens and folders "just like we did in early voting," Allen said. "So anything that the voter touches will not be handled again by any staff member at the office."

Team members will don "full personal protective equipment — gowns, gloves, face masks, face shields, everything that would be necessary to keep them safe as they vote the voter," Allen said, noting all the gear will be discarded after each use in a plastic bag and securely placed for later, appropriate disposal.

During Tennessee's 14 days of early voting, which ended Thursday, the election office had only one person call to inquire about what the process would be, Allen said.

"They could have come during early voting and had we had any during early voting that would have gone to a polling site, saw the sign or had called us and said, 'Hey, I'm ready to come vote,' we would have taken care of them," he said. "Like I said, the only thing we had was just one call inquiring about the process. We told them to let us know on Election Day when they're trying to come down."

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

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