We got a nice note from former Knox Co. Administrator of Elections Cliff Rodgers regarding absentee voting. Some eligible voters are considering mail-in/absentee voting as a way to minimize risk of exposure to the coronovirus. Others are rightly concerned that the postal service has become politicized and may be actively trying to sabotage mail-in voting.

We voted absentee (over 60) in the recent state primary/local election. We had no problems and were able to confirm that they received our ballots. For the Nov. 3rd election, we are considering voting early in-person, just because this election is so critical. We would also be comfortable voting absentee, but better safe (sort of) than sorry.

For eligible voters who wish to vote absentee, Mr. Rodgers says it's critical to request your ballot immediately and to return it promptly. He says they always get some after the deadline and unfortunately have to notify those voters that their votes weren't counted. He notes that Tennessee law allowing a ballot request up until one week before election day is unrealistic because it does not allow enough time. He has no other concerns about absentee voting in Tennessee.

(Also, there is a lot of bad information circulating on social media from people in other states who advise you to drop your absentee ballot off at the election office to avoid mail delays. This is not allowed in Tennessee. By law, the ballot must be mailed, or, as Mr. Rodgers notes, sent via FedEx or UPS.)

Anyway, you can read Mr. Rodgers' thoughts and observations after the break below...

I see on your blog that at least one individual voices some concern as to whether or not to utilize absentee voting (by mail). I suspect there may be many other of your readers who share her concern. This concern, while certainly understandable in the current chaotic and polarized political environment, is somewhat misplaced, at least based on my personal observations for the last decade here in Knox County while I was the Administrator of Elections (AOE).

For the record, the ONLY concern which is a real one in Knox County (or anywhere else in Tennessee for that matter) is that if a voter waits until on or near the October 27th deadline to request an absentee ballot, then it is very challenging indeed to have that ballot mailed to the voter and then for the voter to mail it back by 8 pm on Election Night. Quite frankly, that procrastinating voter should probably overnight it by UPS or Fed Ex to timely return it. The timely return of a ballot is always a concern in any election but it will be magnified beyond comprehension this November when a record number of folks will be voting by mail because of the pandemic. That said, I have NO other concern whatsoever re: voting by mail in Tennessee.

I will tell you too that former AOE Greg Mackay and I discussed this very subject before and during our recent joint appearance on Inside Tennessee. And we are in total agreement that the timely return of these late requested ballots is the primary if not sole problem with absentee voting in Tennessee.

In fact, a number of years ago, several AOE’s, including myself, tried to no avail to have the legislature extend that deadline until ten (10) days before Election Day instead of the present seven (7) days. An unrealistic deadline (which I believe this seven (7) day deadline is) gives the illusion to folks that if they comply with a legal deadline, then there should be no problem in receiving and returning their ballot in time to be counted. And sadly some of those voters will—as in virtually every election—be mistaken. There are always ballots received by the Knox County Election Commission a day or so after the election which, of course, cannot be legally counted. (FYI, those procrastinating voters, as required by law, are notified in writing that their ballots did not count and why).

Please note too that my wife and I have already requested our absentee ballots for the November Election (we did so back in mid-August). We expect to receive them later this month or in early October and we will vote and mail them back IMMEDIATELY. We both also voted by mail in the August Election and my wife also voted by mail in the March Primary. If I had any concern about any facet of the voting by mail process, then we would obviously vote in person. However, as things presently stand and now that we are both over sixty (60), we don’t ever intend to vote in person again.

So to your readers, I simply say request your absentee ballots NOW or in the very near future if you meet one or more of the legal requirements to vote by mail and wish to do so. There is simply no good reason whatsoever to wait to make this request unless you are inexplicably attracted to drama.

Clifford A. Rodgers

Treehouse's picture

Thanks Cliff


R. Neal's picture

And another thing...

Don't expect instant results on election night in Tennessee, or probably anywhere else. I asked Cliff Rodgers about the process for counting absentee ballot votes. Here's what he said:

Those ballots cannot be tabulated until election day—they cannot even be processed until then. There has been some discussion among AOE’s and the State about perhaps beginning that process much earlier—it takes countless hours just to open the ballot envelopes as you can imagine. It will therefore be difficult if not impossible to do everything that is legally required on election day itself with every absentee ballot given the record number anticipated to be received for this one. But as things presently stand, election commission offices in Tennessee must wait until 8 am on election day to begin that process.

The question then becomes: How many hours do we expect our election officials to work without rest on election day—and I’m not talking just about full-time staff here. For my first Presidential Election in 2012, the Absentee Ballot Counting Board (ABCB) and some full time staff were there until 4:30 am while absentee ballots were counted. I submit that’s WAY too long. So, at what point in time should the ABCB stop, rest, and then resume its activities the next day and perhaps the day after that. That’s one reason why everyone will need to be patient in Knox County and all across the country until ALL ballots which can and should be legally counted are fully processed here and all across the country. It cannot be repeated enough that the overriding concern here is accuracy—not speed—when ballots are being counted.

I must say that I was amazed that the Knox County Election Commission was able to process all absentee ballots by about 7:30 on Election Night for the August Election when there was a record number of absentee ballots. Chris Davis prudently hired a lot of folks for the ABCB to deal with these as efficiently and quickly as they did. Obviously, a new record will be set in November for absentee ballots and how long it will take to count those remains to be seen.

JaHu's picture

Couldn't they have someway

Couldn't they have someway devised a plan to count them in shifts and accept the fact it'll probably take longer than a day? Specially under these pandemic conditions. This way everyone won't get totally exhausted.

Greg Mackay's picture

Don’t wait till the last minute.

Good advice from a good man.
If you want to vote by mail, get your application in now.
Keep in mind that you won’t get your ballot mailed to you until October.
I share Cliff’s belief that our local election officials will rise to the occasion and conduct a fair and honest election in the middle of this pandemic.

R. Neal's picture

The previous two AOEs did.

The previous two AOEs did. Let's hope the tradition carries on.

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