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Knoxville couple experiences absentee ballot delay

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — With Election Day on Tuesday, a record number of registered voters across Tennessee have cast their ballots by mail.

The surge of people who requested to vote absentee comes as the country enters its seventh month of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused lawmakers to expand early voting particularly by mail.

A Knoxville woman who mailed her absentee ballot three weeks ago called WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare when she discovered the envelope took 11 days to travel 7 miles.

Every elections office has a tracker system for absentee ballots; which shows the date the ballot was issued and when it was received from the post office. In our story, two ballots mailed together on the same day at the same place were tracked.

In Knoxville, Kathy Killingsworth has been home a lot since the pandemic struck, taking care of toy poodles among other things, Kathy says she and her husband have never missed casting a ballot in the presidental election in 50 years.

Now at 72 years of age and her husband at 74, both with some health issues, they requested a mail-in ballot this year.  

“I have been sick, my husband is asthmatic. We thought it would be best if we voted absentee, by mail.  So, we talked it over applied for your ballot and received them,” Kathy said.

Kathy said she and her husband completed their write-in ballots at the kitchen counter where she and I were sitting. Then, the next day, Kathy said she drove to Knoxville’s main post office on Saturday, Oct. 10.

“I went to the main postal facility on Weisgarber Road, walked in and handed the ballots to the gentleman inside.  He drops them in a basket,” Kathy Killingsworth said.

The Knox County Election Commission office and all others across the state made it possible for absentee voters to trace the arrival of their ballot.

“I thought well it might be a good idea to check mine and my husband’s, both,” Kathy said.

Checking the Knox County ballot status tracker, Kathy went online and printed a copy of the results.

The copy shows the date of issue and when the ballot was received at the Election Commission office.
   
“Well, I checked my husband’s first and noticed that they had received it on October the 16th. So that was six days after I had mailed it. So then I looked at mine. But mine wasn’t received until the 21st of October,” Kathy Killingsworth said. “The way I count a very big discrepancy, especially when they were mailed together. So we did it early, I consider that about a month before the election, three weeks, what is happening to other people?”

At the elections office, administrator Chris Davis says absentee ballots are accepted only through the mail. Once the signature is verified, the date is recorded, the ballot is scanned and secured.

WATE 6 On Your Side wrote to the U.S. Postal Service, we asked about the 11 days it took for Kathy’s ballot to arrive compared to six days for her husband’s. In its response, the post office says it is processing a historic volume of political and election mail this season.

In an email to WATE, we were told, “the postal service is committed to delivering election mail securely and in a timely manner.”

“Eleven days from the 10th to the 21st. That is not a timely manner. That’s coming from the main post office on Weisbarger Road,” Kathy said.

According to Google Maps, the distance is seven miles from the Weisgarber Post Office to the old Knox County Courthouse, where the elections office is located.

“It’s not acceptable to me to have something delay that much as important as it is, my vote and my husband’s vote,” Kathy said.

Knox County Elections supervisor Chris Davis told us on Monday that his office is “at the mercy” of the post office for the timely arrival of mail-in ballots.

Now, official tabulation of absentee votes does not take place until polls close in each county on Election Day.

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