May 25 – Being Present with Absentee Voting

Roll calls. Stating “Present” or “Here”. It is the way to count you showed up and it is also your way to make your presence known on the line, in the drill, through the crowd.

Voting absentee is kind of like that. It is your way to have your vote be counted even if you are not physically present. It should be as simple and as powerful as saying “I’m here. Count my vote.”

Voting absentee is not that simple in Tennessee, which is one of only 16 states that require voters to list a qualifying excuse to get an absentee ballot. Contrast that with 29 states and Washington, D.C., which allow every voter to vote absentee without the need to provide a reason or “excuse”. Plus, there are the five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — who vote exclusively by mail.

Because of the Covid-19 virus some states are easing voting limitations. Whether just for the upcoming primary for now or permanent, some states removed the need for an excuse for voting absentee. Nearly half of the states, including our neighbor Kentucky, have made voting easier by either through removing or reducing restrictions or by mailing out ballots.

Governor Lee has said fear of Covid-19 should not be a reason to vote absentee. We say one should not have to choose between voting and risking one’s health. However, we shouldn’t need a pandemic to change things. We should move forward on no-excuse absentee voting because voting should simply be easier to do.

According to a Pew Research poll, 3 out of 4 Americans (Republicans and Democrats) favor greater access to absentee voting.

What about potential voter fraud? Voter Fraud is rare. For example, the conservative Heritage Foundation in their database found only 1,277 cases going back decades to 1979. Furthermore, the cases of absentee fraud were found in stricter states, not in the “no-excuse states”.

States have a long history of assuring absentee votes by checking to see that the voter is properly registered and the signature on the ballot matches the one on file. Counties and states may need support in equipment and staff hours, but we think this would be worth it to assure all registered voters would have the option to vote-by-mail.

So, before we succeed in getting excuse-free absentee voting, check out this list and see if you qualify to vote Absentee in Tennessee. You can apply now to get a ballot.
1) Individuals who will be out of the county during early voting & election day
2) Full-time students and spouses of students enrolled in accredited college, university or similarly accredited institution of learning outside of home county
3) Permanent Absentee voter (Requires a written statement from the person’s physician that the voter is medically unable to appear at his/her polling pace to vote early.)
4) Full-time resident of licensed nursing home, home for the aged, or similar licensed institution providing relatively permanent domiciliary care outside of home county
5) Serving on a jury
6) 60 years of age or older
7) Candidates for office
8) Election Officials
9) Individuals observing a religious holiday
10) Sickness, physical disability, or hospitalization
11) Voter with a disability and the polling place is inaccessible
12) Caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill or physically disabled
13) Credentialed commercial driver or transportation worker who will be out of the county during early voting and on Election Day

Some additional instruction from Blount Count Election Commission:
“A request to vote absentee by-mail must be initiated by the voter.  The voter must return it to the Election Commission via fax, email, mail, or in person.  The request to vote absentee by-mail cannot be solicited for another voter.  Requests can be accepted up to 7 days prior to the election. Upon receipt and review of your signed request, the Election Commission will mail a set of absentee voting supplies to you. Please follow the instructions carefully, and be sure to contact the Election Commission at 865-273-5920 if you have any questions about your ballot. After completing the ballot and signing the accompanying affidavit, mail the ballot to the Election Commission. No hand-carried absentee ballots will be accepted at the Election Commission or the precinct.  They must be received in the mail or courier service.”