MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The first absentee ballots in Shelby County are set to hit the mail Wednesday, as the COVID-19 pandemic is putting a spotlight on voting by mail and early voting nationwide this election cycle.
In addition to new voters going on the rolls in Shelby County, the Shelby County Election Commission is expecting to process between 40,000 to 50,000 absentee ballots for this election, while planning for 100,000.
“We have a lot of good safeguards in with mail voting,” Linda Phillips, Shelby County Administrator of Elections, said.
Phillips said the absentee voting process in the county is secure.
The election commission has already received roughly 20,000 for absentee ballots, and the first wave of 5,000 should be stuffed and mailed Wednesday.
Ballots will not be mailed out in order of the request received but rather by precinct which the election commission has said is a more efficient way to process them.
Phillips said voters must ensure they fill out their absentee ballot correctly or it won’t be counted.
“What I do see with absentee by mail voting is that voters make mistakes. They’ll do something that prevents us from counting their ballot. They won’t sign the affidavit, they’ll remove the affidavit from the ballot envelope, they don’t put the affidavit in a return envelope,” she said.
In Tennessee, anyone 60 or older can request an absentee ballot along with those who have health conditions that make them at higher risk for bad outcomes from COVID-19. Their caretakers also qualify as part of a dozen absentee voting criteria in the state.
President Donald Trump has questioned the security of voting by mail. WMC Action News 5 political analyst Michael Nelson says the president’s attacks are a first in American politics.
“For a president with that responsibility to cast doubt on the legitimacy of an election in fear that he may lose it and to call it into question, that is historically unprecedented. There has never been anything like that,” Nelson said.
Phillips said early voting locations have been changed and hours lengthened to account for the pandemic. Early voting starts Oct. 14.
“We’ve moved some places to bigger spaces. We are setting up our polling places differently so there is plenty of social distancing,” she said, “Having more hours lets them spread themselves out easier so there would be more social distancing.”
The last day you can request an absentee ballot from the Shelby County Election Commission is Oct. 27.
Under current Tennessee law, the ballot must be received back to the election commission by Election Day on Nov. 3 to be counted. They must be mailed.
Click this link to read about absentee voting criteria in Mississippi and Arkansas.