T-minus less than one week and counting for those looking to take advantage of the chance to cast early ballots in the Nov. 3 Election, which features a historic presidential race unfolding amid a pandemic.
Early voting kicks off in Shelby County next Wednesday (Oct. 14). With COVID-19 job losses, Black business closures and layoffs driving interest, there are more moving parts than normal for a general election.
The Shelby County Election Commission expects a massive voter turnout during the early voting period, which ends Oct. 29.
“We are doing everything we can to help voters. We want every registered voter to vote,” said Linda Phillips, coordinator of elections for the Shelby County Election Commission. “We will be putting up electronic billboards with information in English and Spanish.”
As in other cities and counties across the nation, demand for mail-in ballots is strong as voters attempt to avoid long lines – and in-person contact – on Election day. Both absentee, or mail-in ballots, and early voting sites provide voters with some alternatives.
“Voting before Nov. 3 is easy because you can stop by any location to vote during the early voting period,” Phillips explained. “There are 26 early voting locations. So if you are out and about and see a VOTE HERE sign, you can just go right in and cast your ballot.”
Additionally, there are special allowances this year for individuals who feel they may be susceptible to contracting COVID-19. Paper applications for mail-in ballots may be submitted, or the application can be downloaded online. All requests for absentee ballots must be in the election commission office by Oct. 27, seven days before the general election.
The eligibility criteria and guidelines for requesting mail-in or absentee ballots this year now includes:
- Any person citing a physical disability or underlying health condition, which creates additional vulnerability.
- Any person who is caretaker of an individual particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. (Voters are not required to submit a physician’s statement in support of their determination as to their special vulnerability.)
In addition to COVID-19 allowances, individuals may also be eligible for an absentee ballot if:
- They will not be in Shelby County during the entire early voting period or on Election Day.
- They, or a spouse, are enrolled as a full-time student in an accredited college or university outside Shelby County.
- They reside in a licensed nursing home outside Shelby County.
- They will be unable to vote in person due to service as a juror for a Federal or State court.
- They are 60 years of age or older.
- They are a candidate for office in the election.
- They serve as an Election Day official or as an employee of the Shelby County Election Commission.
- Their observance of a religious holiday prevents them from voting in person during the early voting period and on Election Day.
- They or a spouse possess a valid commercial drivers’ license (CDL) or a valid Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card, and they certify that they will be working outside Tennessee or Shelby County 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.
- They are a member of the military or are a citizen of the U.S. who is overseas.
“The sooner we receive those absentee (ballot) requests, the sooner we can mail them out to you,” said Phillips. “Mail those ballots in early, or get to an early voting site near you and vote. If you wait until Election Day, you must go to your assigned precinct location.”
(For additional information, go to: shelbyvote.com. For individual concerns, call the election commission office at: (901) 222-1200.)