FAQ: Voting absentee in Shelby County in the 2020 presidential election

Voter registration deadlines approaching

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - If you’re interested in voting absentee for the Nov. 3 presidential election, here’s a list of frequently asked questions prepared by the League of Women Voters of Memphis-Shelby County.

Determine if you’re eligible and find more information about the process below.

Who can vote absentee by-mail in Tennessee?

To qualify to vote absentee by-mail, registered voters must fall under one of several categories. The most often used category is that the voter is 60 years of age or older on Election Day. There are several other categories available. (See https://www.shelbyvote.com/voting-absentee for the complete list.)

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, voters who have underlying medical or health conditions which, in their determination, render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it may vote absentee by-mail.

How to vote absentee by-mail in three easy steps:

Step 1: Confirm That You Are a Registered Voter in Shelby County or Register to Vote

  • Visit GoVoteTN.com to verify your voter registration or to register online.
  • Deadline for voter registration is Oct. 5, 2020.
  • A recent court decision has made it possible for first-time voters, who are eligible, to vote absentee by-mail. Check with the Shelby County Election Commission for up-to-date information.

Step 2: Request and Complete an Absentee Ballot Request Form

  • Absentee ballot request forms are available on www.shelbyvote.com or www.sos.tn.gov, or you can call (901) 222-6800 to have a form mailed to you.
  • Ensure all information is provided including your Social Security Number and your signature before mailing or your request will be rejected.
  • You must complete a new absentee ballot request form for each election.

Step 3: Vote with Your Absentee By-Mail Ballot

  • Carefully follow the instructions sent with the ballot, including those regarding the affidavit envelope.
  • Place the ballot in the affidavit envelope. Place the signed affidavit envelope into the white envelope with the election commission’s return address. Be sure to attach a first-class stamp.
  • Your ballot must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.
  • Tennessee law requires absentee ballots be returned by the USPS, FedEx or UPS. You cannot hand deliver your ballot in person.

Find more frequently asked questions below.

I understand that Tennessee requires voters to meet certain eligibility standards to vote absentee. What are the eligibility standards?

To qualify to vote absentee by-mail in the Nov. 3, 2020 election, a registered voter must fall under one of the following categories:

  • Outside Shelby County during the early voting period and all day on Election Day;
  • 60 years of age or older;
  • hospitalized, ill or physically disabled and unable to appear at a polling place to vote (this includes persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it);
  • a caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill or physically disabled (this includes caretakers for persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it);
  • enrolled as a full-time student or the spouse of a student at an institution outside of Shelby Count;
  • resides in relatively permanent care at a licensed facility such as a nursing home located outside Shelby County;
  • has a physical disability and an inaccessible polling place;
  • a licensed physician has filed a statement with the Shelby County Election Commission stating that, in the physician’s judgment, the voter is medically unable to vote in person;
  • unable to vote in person due to service as a juror for a federal or state court;
  • serves as an Election Day official or as a member or employee of the Shelby County Election Commission;
  • a candidate;
  • observing a religious holiday that prevents him or her from voting in person during the early voting period and on Election Day;
  • voter or the voter’s spouse possesses a valid commercial driver’s license, or the voter possesses a valid Transportation Worker Identification card and certifies that he or she will be working outside Shelby County during early voting and Election Day; and/or
  • a member of the military, spouse or dependent; an activated National Guard member on state orders; or an overseas citizen who is qualified to vote in Shelby County elections.

Has there been a recent change to the rules as to who is eligible to vote by absentee ballot? I thought all registered voters could vote by absentee ballot due to concerns about contracting COVID-19.

Yes. The Tennessee Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling that allowed all registered voters to cast an absentee ballot due to COVID-19. Although all registered voters will no longer be eligible to vote by absentee ballot, the court ruled that voters who have underlying medical or health conditions which render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it (“persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19”), as well as those who are caretakers for persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19, are eligible to vote absentee by-mail.

Their special vulnerability to COVID-19 qualifies them to vote absentee under the hospitalized, ill or physically disabled category or the caretaker category.

How do I know if my underlying illness or health condition qualifies as a special vulnerability to COVID-19?

The voter makes the determination as to their special vulnerability to COVID-19. The voter may consult the CDC’s list of health conditions that increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. A physician’s statement is not required.

What if I have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been quarantined because of potential exposure to the virus?

A person who is quarantined because of potential exposure or who has tested positive to COVID-19 should vote absentee by-mail as a person who is ill.

Do I need to request an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3, 2020 election if I already requested an absentee ballot before the Aug. 6, 2020, election?

Yes! You will need to complete a new request form for the Nov. 3, 2020 election unless you qualify as a military or overseas voter or you have been placed on the Shelby County Election Commission’s Permanent Absentee Voting list.

What if I want to vote by absentee ballot but am unsure whether I am registered to vote or want to register now?

It’s easy to verify your voter registration status. Go to www.GoVoteTN.com to check if you’re registered, and, if not currently registered, register to vote. You may also go to the League of Women Voters' website at www.Vote411.org to check your voter registration status, register to vote or obtain information on the races and candidates that will be on your ballot. If you don’t have access to a computer, you can call (901) 222-1200 and request a voter registration application be mailed to you. The last day to register to vote for the Nov. 3, 2020, election is Oct. 5, 2020.

How do I request a ballot?

You must submit a written request to the Shelby County Election Commission. You may use the absentee ballot request form, provided on www.shelbyvote.com to ensure all required information is provided.

Mail the form to: Shelby County Election Commission / P.O. Box 342798 / Bartlett, TN 38184-2798

If emailing, send your request to absenteevoting@shelbycountytn.gov. Be sure the attached document contains the required information and your scanned signature. A signed form can also be scanned and emailed. Before making an absentee ballot request, we recommend you check www.GoVoteTN.com to ensure you are currently registered.

You can also call the election commission at (901) 222-6800 or (901) 222-1200 to request an absentee ballot request form. They will send you the form to be completed and returned.

What if I do not provide all the information required on the absentee ballot request form?

The county election commission will reject the request form and return it to the voter immediately by mail to be completed and returned. If time permits, a rejected form must be corrected and returned to the Shelby County Election Commission.

When can I request the ballot?

As soon as you can! Although the deadline to request a ballot is Oct. 27, 2020, the U.S. Postal Service recommends voters submit their ballot request early enough so that it is received by county election officials at least 15 days before Election Day at a minimum and preferably long before that.

When should I expect to receive my Absentee Ballot?

The election commission expects to begin mailing out ballots in late September or the first part of October for the Nov. 3, 2020, election. It does not send an automatic confirmation of the receipt of the ballot, but once you mail the ballot back, you can track the status of your absentee ballot at www.tnmap.tn.gov.

The ballot request form asks for my Social Security Number. I am not comfortable giving it out. Can I just write in the last four digits?

No. Tennessee law requires the entire Social Security Number. Applications will not be processed without the complete number. Those processing your ballot request form already have access to your Social Security Number. You provided it on your voter registration form.

I just registered to vote online this year. Can I vote absentee in this election?

Under Tennessee law, voters who register online or by mail must vote in person in their first election, including full-time students or the spouse of a student enrolled at an institution outside of Shelby County. However, on Sept. 11, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the State of Tennessee to allow first-time voters to vote absentee in the Nov. 3, 2020 Presidential Election, if they would otherwise be eligible to vote by absentee ballot under Tennessee law. This could change again in the coming days before the November election. Voters can check with the Shelby County Election Commission for up-to-date information.

If a voter wants to ensure they can vote by absentee, they should register “in person” at the election commission, or if they have already registered by mail or online, appear in person at a Shelby County Election Commission location to show their ID and have their status changed to an “in person” registrant. Election commission offices are located at 980 Nixon Drive, Memphis, TN, and in downtown Memphis at 157 Poplar Avenue, Suite 137. With their new status as an “in person” registrant they can vote by absentee ballot.

I messed up my absentee ballot. What do I do?

Contact the Shelby County Election Commission at absenteevoting@shelbycountytn.gov or call (901) 222-1200 or (901) 222-6800 to request a new ballot to replace the spoiled one. They will send you one that is marked as a replacement ballot so that only one ballot from you will be counted in the election.

How can I avoid mistakes when completing and mailing an absentee ballot?

Carefully follow the instructions sent with the ballot, including those regarding the affidavit envelope. When marking the ballot, the voter must completely fill in the oval next to the candidate they are voting for. The voter must sign the affidavit envelope and insert their individual ballot into it. (The signature on the affidavit envelope must be that of the voter to whom the ballot is issued.) The affidavit envelope is then placed into the white envelope with the election commission’s address and mailed back to the election commission. Do not place more than one ballot in a single affidavit envelope. Be sure to attach a first-class stamp. The election commission cannot accept ballots that are dropped off by voters at their office.

What if I never receive my requested ballot or do not have sufficient time to return it through the mail by election day?

You may go to your polling location during early voting or on Election Day and ask for a provisional ballot. If you are mistakenly told you cannot vote by provisional ballot, ask to speak to the supervisor at your polling location. If you are still prevented from voting, call the election commission’s operations center at (901) 222-1200 for assistance. Don’t allow yourself to be turned away.

After casting your provisional ballot the election commission will see, upon reviewing the voting records, that you requested an absentee ballot and will check to determine if a ballot was already received by mail, ensuring only one vote will be counted.

Can I drop off my ballot?

NO!!! Tennessee law does not allow for drop boxes or the personal delivery of ballots to election commission offices. Mail back your ballot using the self-addressed envelope provided by the Shelby County Election Commission. Ballots may also be returned using other commercial carriers, such as FedEx or UPS, and should be sent to Shelby County Election Commission, 980 Nixon Drive, Memphis, TN 38134.

Does the absentee ballot need to be post marked by Election Day? Or must it be received by then?

Your ballot must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

What security measures are in place to ensure my absentee ballot is properly counted?

Multiple security measures are in place to keep ballots secure and detect attempts of anyone but the legitimate voter to use the ballot. Ballots mailed to the P.O. box are retrieved by two election commission employees, one Democrat and one Republican, and are brought back to the election commission offices. Each ballot is noted as received in the computer system and placed in a secure ballot box, where it remains until counted on election day. Ballots that are sent by commercial carriers, like FedEx, are received at the election commission’s Nixon Drive location, at the front counter. Two employees (Democrat and Republican) are immediately called to retrieve the ballot. They enter it into the computer and place it in a secure ballot box. An audit is performed daily to match the number of ballots received to the number in the computer system.

In addition, the voter’s signature and Social Security Number on the ballot are matched to those on the voter’s voter registration form to prevent the improper use of another’s ballot.

How is my vote kept anonymous if I mail it in?

Your ballot will arrive at the election commission in a sealed affidavit envelope that you have signed. Once received, the signature is compared with the signature on your ballot application form. Then the signature flap is removed from the envelope so that the sealed ballot remains anonymous.

Are absentee ballots only counted in close races?

NO! They are always counted! All absentee ballots with a signed affidavit received by 7 p.m. on Election Day are counted along with ballots cast during early voting periods.

Will the expected increase in absentee voting delay the reporting of election results?

An expected surge in the use of absentee ballots could affect the speed of the results. Patience will be required. An accurate ballot count is more important than a faster count.

Where can I get more information on absentee voting in Shelby County?

Call the Shelby County Election Commission at (901) 222-6800 or (901) 222-1200 or go to their website at www.shelbyvote.com where the absentee ballot request form, the form to request placement on the permanent absentee voting list and accompanying form for the physician’s statement can be found. Information can also be obtained at the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.tn.gov.

For more information, contact League of Women Voters Memphis-Shelby County at lwvmsc@gmail.com or visit www.lwvmemphisshelby.org.

For questions or assistance, contact the Shelby County Election Commission at (901) 222-6800 or (901) 222-1200, email absenteevoting@shelbycountytn.gov or visit their website at www.shelbyvote.com.

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