Voting by Mail in Tennessee

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Voting by Mail in Tennessee 2020-08-06T16:51:52-05:00

Now, more than ever, exercising your right to vote is critical. But many Tennesseans have questions about how to do so safely and securely under the threat of a global pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, thirty-four states permitted all registered voters to vote by mail without requiring an excuse. Others, like Tennessee, require voters to have a “valid” reason to request a mail-in ballot.

The ACLU of Tennessee, the ACLU and Dechert LLP filed a lawsuit to make absentee voting available to all Tennessee voters during the pandemic. Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the state must permit every eligible voter with an underlying health condition that makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 — and any voter who is a caretaker of such individuals — to vote by mail in all elections in 2020 due to COVID-19. Prior to this case, the state had refused to let anyone physically capable of traveling to the polls to vote by mail. The Tennessee Supreme Court also ordered the state to provide guidance to voters who meet these qualifications prior to the November 2020 elections.

You can learn more about voting by mail below, including:

 

What are the important dates related to the 2020 elections?

Friday, July 17 Early voting for the August 6, 2020 state/federal primary and state/county general election begins
Wednesday, July 22 Though not the final deadline, it’s a good idea to request your August absentee ballot by this date to ensure you have plenty of time to receive it and mail it back
Thursday, July 30 The state’s absentee ballot request deadline for the August 6 election.

Though not a hard deadline, it’s a good idea to drop your August 6 ballot in the mail by this date to ensure it arrives before the polls close on Election Day.

Saturday, August 1 Early voting for the August 6 election ends.
Wednesday, August 5 First day to request an absentee ballot for the November 3 state/federal general election
Thursday, August 6 State/federal primary and state/county general election; absentee ballots must be received by your local election commission by the close of the polls on this date
Monday, October 5 Voter registration deadline for November 3 election
Wednesday, October 14 Early voting for November 3 election begins
Monday, October 19 Though not the final deadline, it’s a good idea to request your absentee ballot for November by this date to ensure that you have plenty of time to receive it and mail it back
Tuesday, October 27 State’s deadline to request absentee ballot for November 3 election.

Though not a hard deadline, it’s a good idea to drop your November 3 ballot in the mail by this date to ensure it arrives before the polls close on Election Day.

Thursday, October 29 Early voting for November 3 election ends
Tuesday, November 3 State/federal general election; absentee ballots must be received by your local election commission by the close of the polls on this date.

Who is eligible to vote by mail-in ballot in Tennessee?

In response to an ACLU-TN lawsuit, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the state must permit every eligible voter with an underlying health condition that makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 — and any voter who is a caretaker of such individuals — to vote by mail in all elections in 2020 due to COVID-19. Prior to this case, the state had refused to let anyone physically capable of traveling to the polls to vote by mail. The Tennessee Supreme Court also ordered the state to provide guidance to voters who meet these qualifications prior to the November 2020 elections.

You can vote absentee in Tennessee if you are:

  • Out of the county where you are registered to vote during the early voting period and all day on Election Day
  • Age 60 or older
  • Physically disabled and have an inaccessible polling place
  • Hospitalized, ill or physically disabled and unable to appear at your polling place to vote, including individuals that have an underlying health condition that makes you especially vulnerable to COVID-19
  • You are the caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill, or disabled, including individuals that have an underlying health condition that makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19
  • A juror in federal or state court
  • A credentialed commercial driver who will be working outside your county or state of registration during early voting hours and on Election Day and you will have no specific out-of-area mailing address during such time
  • A voter in a licensed permanent care facility (e.g. a nursing home) outside your county of residence
  • A full-time student (or the spouse of a full-time student) at an institution outside of the county where you are registered
  • An observer of a religious holiday that prevents you from voting in person during the early voting period and on Election Day
  • A candidate for office on the ballot
  • An election official (e.g. poll worker) or member or employee of the election commission
  • A member of the military or an overseas citizen.
  • On the permanent absentee list (see the Secretary of State’s website)

I qualify under one of the excuses above to vote absentee. How do I request an absentee ballot?

You must submit a written request containing the information below to your local county election commission office by the seventh day before Election Day. For the August 6, 2020 primary, the last day the election commission will accept requests for an absentee ballot is July 30, 2020. For the November 3 election, the last day the election commission will accept requests for an absentee ballot is October 27, 2020.

You can either use the state’s absentee ballot request form or submit a written request for an absentee ballot without using the form as long as you include all of the information below:

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your social security number
  • Your date of birth
  • The address at which you’d like to receive your ballot
  • The election in which you’d like to participate. If the election involves a primary, the political party in which you’d like to participate.
  • The reason you want to request an absentee ballot. (NOTE: If applicable, a copy of your Commercial Driver’s License or your Transportation Worker Identification Credential card must be included in your request.)
  • Your scanned signature

Whether you use the absentee ballot request form or write your own request, you can then send it by mail, fax, or e-mail to your local election commission in a stamped envelope by the seventh day before Election Day. For the August 6, 2020 primary, the election commission must receive your request for an absentee ballot by July 30, 2020. For the November 3 election, the last day the election commission will accept requests for an absentee ballot is October 27, 2020.

You can find your local election commission’s address here.

A request that contains all of the information above will be processed and a ballot will be mailed to the voter.

When can I request the ballot?

You can request a mail-in ballot no earlier than ninety (90) days before the election and no later than seven (7) days before the election. To be processed for the next election, the application must be received by your local election commission no later than seven (7) days before the election.

Requests for absentee ballots for the August 6, 2020 election can be made now and must be received by your local election commission by July 30, 2020.

Requests for absentee ballots the November presidential election must be received by your local election commission between August 5, 2020 and October 27, 2020.

To where should I ask the ballot be sent?

Wherever is most convenient for you. Election workers seek to turn around requests for absentee ballots as fast as possible, so try your best to ensure that the ballot is sent to where you are (e.g. if you’re staying at your daughter’s place in Texas for the next month or two, request the ballot be sent there).

What do I do after I’ve requested the absentee ballot?

You will receive an absentee ballot in the mail with a sealable envelope in which to send your ballot and specific instructions on how to complete the ballot.

You can check the status of your ballot at https://tnmap.tn.gov/voterlookup/. If you see from the website that 7 or more days have passed since your absentee ballot was sent, contact your local election commission.

Once you receive your ballot, follow the instructions closely and send it back. Use a black pen to complete your ballot. You must mail your ballot in time for your local election commission to receive it no later than the close of polls on Election Day. Some postal officials suggest mailing your ballot 7 days before Election Day to be safe, which would mean mailing your ballot by July 30 for the August 6 primary, or October 27 for the November 3 election. You must return your ballot by mail (USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc.) – it cannot be hand delivered to the election office. Don’t forget the stamp.

I signed my absentee ballot with my own name. Will my ballot remain anonymous?

Yes! The signature flap at the bottom of your ballot will be verified, then detached from the rest of the ballot. Your vote will then be counted separately from the verified signature flap.

How will my signature be verified?

The signature on your absentee ballot request form and your absentee ballot are compared to your signature in the registration record, so sign with care.

I don’t feel like mailing in my ballot is a secure way to cast my vote. Should I be worried?

No! There is no evidence of widespread tampering with mail-in ballots. If you are eligible and want to vote by mail, you can do so without worrying that your ballot will be compromised.

I don’t like giving out my social security number. Can I withhold it, or only write down the last 4 digits?

No! The state won’t count your ballot if you don’t write out your entire social security number. Make sure to provide complete answers to all the questions on the form.

When is my ballot due? When do I need to mail it? Can I postmark it on Election Day?

Your election commission must receive the ballot by the close of polls on Election Day. That means you should put your ballot in the mail well before Election Day. Some postal officials suggest mailing your ballot 7 days before Election Day to be safe, which would mean mailing your ballot by July 30 for the August 6 primary, or October 27 for the November 3 election. Remember, so long as you submit your absentee ballot on time, the form is complete, and your signature matches the signature on your registration record, your vote will be counted.

How much postage do I need to use when I mail my ballot?

You will need to use one $0.55 stamp (or one forever stamp) to mail your ballot.

Can I drop off my ballot at my local election commission instead of mailing it?

 No. Election law requires all absentee ballots be mailed. Your local election commission cannot accept ballots that are dropped off at their office.

What if I do not receive my absentee ballot?

You can check the status of your ballot at https://tnmap.tn.gov/voterlookup/. If you see from the website that 7 or more days have passed since your absentee ballot was sent, contact your local election commission.

I made a mistake on my ballot. What do I do?

Contact your local election commission to request a new ballot to replace a spoiled ballot. You will be sent a ballot marked “replacement ballot,” so that only one of your ballots will be counted.

If this will be my first time to vote and I registered online, by mail, or at an event – can I vote by mail? Do I need to take additional steps to ensure that I can vote by mail?

Under current state law, first-time voters who registered by mail or online, or at an event, office or voter registration drive where a county election official was not present, must show an acceptable photo ID to an election official in order to vote.

You can get your registration status changed by visiting your local election commission in-person before the election takes place and telling them that you want to be marked as an in-person voter. Bring an acceptable photo ID.

Once you have taken this step, if you meet the eligibility criteria to vote by mail listed above, then you can request an absentee ballot and vote by mail.

Otherwise, people who registered online or by mail must vote in person their first time around.

Once I’ve voted absentee in one election, will an absentee ballot automatically be sent to me prior to the following election?

No. You must request an absentee ballot for each election. However, you may apply to join the permanent absentee voting registry. You’ll need a physician’s statement swearing you are perpetually medically unable to vote in person. For more information on how to register as a permanent absentee voter in your county, visit your local election commission’s website.