In a letter to lawmakers, Secretary of State Tre Hargett said the state is preparing for an increase in absentee ballots cast, particularly by older residents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals age 65 and older are at a higher risk of serious illness if they contract the coronavirus.
To qualify for an absentee ballot, the registered voter must be 60 years of age or older; be hospitalized, ill or physically disabled; be a caretaker of someone who is physically ill or disabled; be living in a care facility outside their county of residence; or be a member of the military or a resident living overseas, among other reasons. Voters can also qualify if their doctor files a statement with a local county election commission stating that they are medically unable to vote in person.
Election officials estimate less than 2.5% of voters typically vote via absentee ballot; however, county election administrators are being cautioned to prepare for that number to increase in August and November.
“While unlikely, in order to be prepared, we suggest you plan for 100% of voters over the age of 60 voting absentee by mail,” officials said in the contingency plan. “The division of elections has ordered 4 million each of mailing envelopes, return envelopes and ballot envelopes.”
In June, an order from the Davidson County Chancery Court expanded eligibility requirements to allow any registered voter who believes it is “impossible or unreasonable” to vote in person because of ongoing coronavirus concerns to request an absentee ballot. While a statement from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office disagreed with the order, the COVID-19 category was still listed on the state absentee ballot application as of press time.
Those eligible to vote by absentee ballot must submit a written request to do so by mail, fax or email. The request must be received by July 30 in order to qualify. Voters can find an application at www.govotetn.com.