Vote By Mail In Tennessee

As a Democrat, I stand for the idea that we should improve our representative democracy. It’s in the name after all. One of the main ways to do this, in my opinion, is to make it easier for citizens to vote. I believe voting should be considered a right, rather than a privilege. I don’t agree with the idea that only certain people should be entitled to vote or that whatever obstacles are put up in the name of eliminating voter fraud are OK, because people should have to put in some effort to get to vote. And this isn’t just a straw man argument. Back in my early arguing on Facebook days in 2015-16, I encountered many people (almost all of whom were Trump supporters) who made these arguments or reasonable facsimiles thereof.

We live in a world of: Voter ID laws (your gun license is an acceptable ID, but not your student ID?); various forms of voter suppression, including some which are specifically and expressly targeted at people of color (I’m looking at you North Carolina); and increasingly sophisticated gerrymandering. As a rule, red states tend to try to make it harder for people to vote and blue states make it easier (although, what’s up New York? Get your act together). Really egregious gerrymandering tends to happen more in red states than blue, but this tactic crosses party lines (I’m looking especially at you Maryland). If you happen to disagree with my characterization of which side engages more in voter suppression and gerrymandering, hit me up on social media and let’s discuss. I can get on board with criticizing the Democratic Party where they fall short in these areas. I just think Republicans do it more.

Tennessee is generally considered a red state. Reliably goes for the Republican nominee in Presidential years. Pockets of blue near the cities, but otherwise fairly red. As far as gerrymandering goes, I think there are issues, but it’s not as bad as in other states. I want to dive into gerrymandering at some point here. Not just as an academic exercise, but because the County Commission will be doing a line drawing exercise in Knox County after the census – in or about 2021. I hope to be on the Commission at that point, so I want to take a harder look at the process to make sure I know how it’s been done in the past and how it ought to be done this time. Stay tuned for that.

Today, though, I want to focus on how Tennessee handles voting. From what I can tell, as far as red states go, Tennessee isn’t terrible. We have some early voting before elections. We don’t seem to be in the headlines, like some other red states, for egregious purges of voting rolls. Voting by mail (absentee voting) isn’t no excuse for everyone, but if you’re 60 or older, it is no excuse. You can see the full list of authorized reasons for voting by mail (absentee) at the Tennessee Secretary of State website. Besides the 60 and over excuse, some other excuses are:

  • the voter will be outside the county of registration during the early voting period and all day on election day
  • the voter’s licensed physician has filed a statement with the Election Commission stating that the voter is medically unable to vote in person.
  • the voter is hospitalized, ill or disabled
  • the voter is a candidate for office in the election, is an election day official or an employee of the election commission.
  • religious grounds
  • member of the military or overseas citizen

It’s interesting to me that, as a candidate, I can request an absentee ballot. I’ll do early voting, I’m sure, but good to know it’s an option.

Since I’m immersed in my campaign, I am acutely aware of the various voting related dates that apply to my general election day (August 6, 2020) and also the national general election day (November 3, 2020). One of the things that I’ll be focusing on in my online campaign is to try to let as many people know if they can vote by mail and when they can request that ballot. The dates are:

  • First day to request an absentee ballot – May 8, 2020
  • Final day to request an absentee ballot – July 30, 2020
  • Early Voting Period – July 17, 2020 – August 1, 2020
  • Election Day – August 6, 2020

The other thing that’s on my mind is how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect people’s ability to cast their votes on August 6 and November 3. In an ideal world, I think Tennessee ought to direct that all registered voters be sent ballots to vote for August 6, 2020 and November 3, 2020. Unfortunately, though, I don’t see that happening. But I hope at least that the state can see a way to make voting by mail (absentee voting) more accessible for anyone who doesn’t otherwise qualify for an absentee ballot, but fears that going to the polls will put their health in danger. It seems like the state could take away the requirement that a licensed physician submit a statement and just state that anyone who fears for their health because of the pandemic can request an absentee ballot. Keep the rest of the process the same (although you might need to modify the absentee ballot request form to include the pandemic as a reason).

Considering the slow response to the crisis by Governor Lee and Mayor Jacobs, I’m not optimistic that the State will take this step. After all, they’re Republicans and they probably adhere to the conventional wisdom on voting, that less restrictive voting procedures make it more likely that Democrats will win. I hope they can see past their partisan bias and enact voting procedures that make it easier for all Tennesseans to vote this year.

Published by Todd Frommeyer for Knox County Commission

Retired Air Force JAG, former Navy Russian linguist, former consumer financial regulator, political junkie

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