Nashville election officials say their systems ran smoothly this month and that they’re hopeful that they’ve increased public trust in voting. In certifying the city’s election results Thursday, they noted lessons learned about accommodating COVID-positive voters and what it takes to process more than 34,000 mail-in ballots.
Election Administrator Jeff Roberts said he had reason to wonder how quickly ballots could be counted, but he was happy to see how many mail-in absentee forms were arriving well before Election Day.
“We did not have a giant wave of ballots arriving the last few days,” he says.
And on the night of the election, the city counted the mail-ins several hours faster than the August primary. Roberts says that election was good practice, including giving Metro the push it needed to purchase ballot-opening machines. Those helped save several hours on Nov. 3, as did additional poll worker training on the most efficient way to use ballot scanners.
Davidson County handled an array of other circumstances, including:
- 216 mail-in ballots that arrived after Election Day, which cannot be counted, per state law;
- 59 COVID-positive voters who were accommodated at an outdoor, drive-thru location, and;
- more than 1,000 provisional ballots cast by residents who initially requested the absentee option before instead showing up in person.
The rise in provisional ballots was expected.
“It shows … their decision on how to vote evolves over a period of time,” Robert says. “Initially they’re thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, the absentee is the way to go.’ And then they could have heard how safe early voting was, and they changed their mind.”
Some fixes needed
One hiccup that Roberts wants to fix is how sample ballots are sent to voters. He said a few dozen people marked and sent those back instead of using an official absentee ballot, so had to be contacted by the commission.
“We’re looking at how we can put a watermark or something on that sample ballot to maybe head that off at the pass,” he says. “If we’ve done something that confused the voter, we need to try to correct that.”
But overall, Roberts expects many people over age 60 will continue mail-in voting.
“We think we did a pretty good job of making the public feel comfortable that, here in Davidson County, if you follow all the processes correctly, your vote will count,” he says.
The city also fielded complaints about how candidate names were appearing on voting machines. The quantity of presidential candidates forced voters to tap a “more” button to see them all.
Early voting was also more popular than ever. Roberts says high turnout justified an election commission decision to add sites at Friendship Baptist Church in North Nashville, which drew many voters from other areas of town, and the Margaret Maddox East YMCA in East Nashville.