Davidson County is entering this election season with about 30% more active registered voters than in 2016. Nearly 450,000 Nashvillians have registered to vote, up from about 340,000 in the last presidential election, and many of them signed up only in the last few months.
The Davidson County Election Commission registered nearly 36,000 voters just since Aug. 1. That’s compared to 28,441 in the second half of 2016.
One of those newly registered voters is Duana Neal. She says she was motivated to vote this time because, as a small business owner, she struggled to get financial relief during the pandemic.
“I had to reach out to a local representative,” Neal says, “That made a difference who was in office and who was hearing me say, ‘Hey, I’m a single mother, and I don’t want to close my business because of this pandemic, and I’m not getting any funding.’”
She says she realized that people in office have a big impact on how relief money gets distributed, and she wants to have a say.
Neal says it’s also an exciting time to vote. She’s hoping her schedule works out so that she can cast her ballot alongside her 18-year-old daughter.
More than a dozen Nashville polling places will open every day except Sundays beginning at 8 a.m. on Oct. 14. Early voting lasts through Oct. 29, and Election Day is Nov. 3.
Voters will be screened for coronavirus symptoms. They’ll wait in socially distant lines. And there will be plenty of hand sanitizer, extra masks and coffee stirrers for voters to use so they don’t have to touch the machines.
“Davidson County voters are used to social distancing. They recognize that wearing a mask is a good idea to protect them and our poll officials. We also have plenty of things spread out,” says Davidson County elections administrator Jeff Roberts. “We can keep voters as far apart as possible during the voting process.”
Roberts hopes the process will be safer than going to the grocery store.
Extra precautions may mean longer lines
But he says that spacing will be especially important if some voters choose not to wear masks. Though a countywide mandate is still in effect, he says people won’t be turned away if they’re maskless.
“If you just don’t want to wear a mask, we’re going to let you come through the process, vote you as quickly as possible,” he says. “And then we will try to wipe down the surfaces that you might have come in contact with.”
Roberts says officials are trying to accommodate every voter — even those who might be sick. If someone answers yes to any questions during a pre-screening, he says they’ll be isolated and taken to vote in a separate area, so as not to potentially infect anyone waiting in line.
“We hope that others will be as respectful as possible,” Roberts says. “We’re encouraging you to wear a mask. If you forget yours in the car, we’ve got one here for you.”
All these extra safety measures will mean voting lines will be longer in physical distance than normal. And voters should expect they could slow the process down a bit.
But Roberts says the election commission is maximizing its resources. The county will be using all of its voting equipment — including some new machinery.
Officials are also hiring additional poll workers. Roberts estimates between 800 and 900 people have applied since August, compared to an average of about 50 in a typical year.
“The voters have really stepped up to help us in that way,” he says.
This story was updated at 6:15 p.m. with COVID-19 information.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the size of the increase in active registered voters in Davidson County. It’s about 30%, not 20%.