MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Friday is the first day of early voting for Tennessee state and federal primaries as well as county general elections.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett visited Memphis Friday to see the extra safety protocols that have been taken to keep voters and poll workers healthy while voting in person during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the ACLU is battling the state to give some first-time voters the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot.
Twenty-six early voting locations across Shelby County opened their doors Friday for the first day of early voting for the August election.
“We want to visit and see how the preparations have gone,” said Hargett. “We put a lot of planning into running an election during this pandemic.”
All poll workers are required to wear masks and voters are encouraged to do so as well.
Voting machines have been spaced out, election cards are wiped down after each use and stir sticks normally used for coffee are given to each voter to avoid anyone touching voting machines.
Hargett says these steps make him confident that voting in person is safe.
“I’m absolutely going to vote in person, my wife is going to vote in person,” said Hargett.
A few of the first early voters we spoke to said they thought the voting process made them feel protected.
“I felt very, very safe,” said Kevin Brooks, who lives downtown. “Social distancing markers are clearly highlighted all throughout the building.”
“I’m about to go out to the car and call my wife and tell her that she needs to come early to vote so she can get it out the way as well and also my daughter,” said James Woods, another Memphis voter.
Hargett said he expects a large increase in absentee ballots this year.
While Tennessee voters can request absentee ballots for this election if they fear for their health at the polls, there is a legal battle brewing over whether first-time voters fall into that category.
The ACLU and the State of Tennessee are facing off in court over a state law requiring first-time voters who register by mail or online to cast their ballot in-person.
Hargett says the law is the law.
“My job is to enforce the law of Tennessee and so the law says that first-time voters have to present, in some way, in person and that’s what we’re carrying forward,” he said.
Hargett also expressed doubts over the security of absentee voting, saying the best way to ensure your vote is properly counted is by voting in person.
The Bi-Partisan Policy Center says absentee ballots are secure and less susceptible to voter fraud.
In a statement, the ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said:
“For years, the state of Tennessee has offered the option of vote by mail for the people who met the state’s list of qualifications to receive an absentee ballot, including being over sixty years of age. It is unclear why there would suddenly be concerns regarding the ability of United States Postal Service workers to continue to do their jobs and successfully deliver mail-in ballots to Tennesseans and return them to local election commissions securely, on time and free of tampering. A state judge has already ruled that all eligible voters in our state may choose how to cast their vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are committed to making sure that every Tennesseans who chooses to vote by mail can do so.”
To find all 26 early voting locations open July 17 through Aug. 1, including the voting location closest to you, [CLICK HERE.]