Just shy of two months before the November election, state officials are working to make voting in Tennessee accessible and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To prepare for the health and logistical challenges posed by the virus, the state has implemented changes to mail-in voting and protocols at the polls.
"State and county election officials have spent months preparing for the November election, including creating a COVID-19 plan. This comprehensive plan provides lengthy guidance to protect poll workers and voters," Julia Bruck, a spokesperson for the secretary of state, wrote in an email.
"The state also anticipated needing additional poll officials this year, so we, along with county election commissions, have been aggressively working to recruit poll officials," Bruck wrote. "We are continuing our successful statewide 'Be a Patriot. Become a Poll Official' campaign to recruit poll officials for November. Most Tennesseans are eligible to work as a poll official. For more information and to apply to become a poll official, visit pollworkers.govotetn.com."
To help voters and prospective voters understand changes and how to register, here are answers to common questions about this year's election:
What's the deadline for voter registration?
How can voters register?
Voters can register to vote online at GoVoteTN.com.
Voters can also download a Tennessee voter registration application and submit the application to their local county election commission by Oct. 5 to vote in the November election.
Who can vote by mail?
Under a Sept. 9 U.S. District Court Order, Tennessee voters who meet one of the following requirements may vote by mail without appearing in person, including first-time voters:
You are sixty (60) years of age or older.
You will be outside the county where you are registered during the early voting period and all day on Election Day.
You are hospitalized, ill or physically disabled and unable to appear at your polling place to vote (this includes persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it). For a list of underlying health conditions that make a person more susceptible, go to bit.ly/more-risk. A physician's statement is not required to check this box.
You are the caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill, or disabled (this includes caretakers for persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it). A physician's statement is not required to check this box.
You or your spouse are a full-time student in an accredited college or university outside the county where you are registered.
You reside in a nursing home, assisted living facility or home for the aged outside your county of residence.
You are a candidate for office in the election.
You are observing a religious holiday that prevents you from voting in person during the early voting period and on Election Day.
You serve as an Election Day official or as a member or employee of the election commission.
You will be unable to vote in-person due to jury duty.
You have a physical disability and an inaccessible polling place.
You or your spouse possess a valid commercial drivers license (CDL) or Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card and you will be working outside the state or county of registration during the open hours of early voting and Election Day and have no specific out-of-county or out-of-state address to which mail may be sent or received during such time.
You are a member of the military or are an overseas citizen.
You are on the permanent absentee list.
How do eligible voters register for mail-in ballots?
To vote absentee by-mail, under state law, voters can submit a written request for an absentee ballot by mail, fax, or e-mail to their local election commission by October 27.
Request your absentee ballot at bit.ly/tn-absent-vote.
How do voters return mail-in ballots?
Absentee ballots must be returned by mail (USPS, FedEx, or UPS).
What's the deadline to return mail-in ballots?
Ballots must be received by the election commission no later than poll closing time on Election Day. Tennessee law does not allow by- mail ballots to be hand-delivered. Ballots must be mailed.
Are there any new rules or precautions at the polls for in-person voters?
According to the Secretary of State's office, precincts will take safety measures like plexiglass/screen barriers for early voting, using disposable styluses like candy sticks or Q-tips to minimize voter contact with voting machines, providing counties with masks, social distancing resources, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer, and face shields for poll officials.
Voters are encouraged to wear face coverings.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.