Thomasena Howard, a hospital worker in Nashville, waited about 15 minutes in line to cast a ballot in person on the first day of early voting.
It was hot outside the Bordeaux Library, but, she told WPLN News it was worth it and she felt safe.
“It was social distanced,” Howard said. “We got our mask on and they are taking precaution and stuff like that — 6 feet away from each other.”
Howard could’ve voted absentee. But, she said she doesn’t completely trust the process.
“It might not get there fast enough,” Howard said. “So, I prefer to stand in the long lines and do that, so I can see that I voted.”
Other in-person voters expressed the same concerns. They worry their vote might not be counted, or that their ballot might never reach the Davidson County Election Commission.
Over 17,000 people in Davidson County have already voted absentee. The deadline to request this ballot for the August primary election is Thursday, and county officials expect more will sign up.
Still, many registered voters have worries. But Jeff Roberts, the administrator of elections in Nashville, said people can trust the process, as long as they follow the instructions.
“If you allow time for us to mail you the ballot and then time for you to mail it back, you should feel pretty confident,” Roberts said.
The United States Postal Service has told election administrators that people should allow seven days each way just to be sure the ballot will arrive on time. Voters have the opportunity to track their ballot through the Secretary of State’s website.
In order for it to be counted, it has to get to the Election Commission by the closing of the polls on Aug. 6.
Roberts said they are all going to get counted that day, if at all possible.
“We will start counting absentee ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day,” Roberts said. “We have 15,000 right now in locked ballot boxes just waiting for Election Day to get here.”
Roberts said that, in previous years, the election commission would receive only about 1,800 absentee ballots for an August primary.
So, this year he already has line up four teams to count votes. He also has others on call.
Confusion Over Voting Process
One reason so many people are confused about absentee voting is because the state has argued that fear of getting coronavirus is not a good enough excuse to qualify for one.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett says the law is strict. Last week, Hargett defended this position in front of a U.S. Senate committee. He said the Republican-led General Assembly voted over and over against expanding absentee voting during a pandemic, so he had to limit absentee balloting to exceptions spelled out in the law, such as hospitalizations, being out-of-county throughout the voting period or being over 60.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told Hargett that position is “pitiful.”
But other GOP-run states have done the opposite. Instead, they have lifted restrictions to request an absentee ballot.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said that he wants people to vote without fear. So, he used his power under the Alabama constitution to allow people who might be scared of getting COVID-19 to vote absentee.
This option will be available for people in Alabama all the way through the November general election. The Republican said he hasn’t received any pushback.
“One of the things that we wanted to make sure we did was to make it as easy and comfortable and as less anxiety-based as we could possibly make it,” Merrill said.
Meanwhile, the in Tennessee, the courts have opened absentee balloting for everyone who believes it’s “impossible or unreasonable” to vote in person because of COVID-19.
But Hargett is still fighting the expansion of absentee voting. State election officials hope for a court ruling at least in time for November.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if I request an absentee ballot but then decide to vote in person?
You must vote a provisional ballot on Election Day.
Will my absentee ballot be counted if it arrives past Election Day?
What are the most common mistakes people make when voting absentee?
Roberts said people tend to forget about signing the affidavit on the absentee ballot. He also said sometimes people return the envelope without the ballot. Don’t do that!