BLOUNT COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — The general election is 33 days away and many East Tennesseans have already made their selections by mail. It’s an option available in every election, but this year, more people are choosing the alternative to going to the polls.

Susan Knopf, the Blount County Administrator of Elections, said their office has already received more than 3,500 requests, mailed out 3,200, and received 600 returned ballots. She’s hired five additional people to keep up with the demand.

“Covid has definitely put a bearing on the number of absentee ballot requests. But, we’re prepared. We have 10 ballot scanners now for election night, so we’ll be able to scan about 5,000 an hour once we get to that point. We have never seen this many in Blount County, ever. The biggest we ever had was November 2016. We had 1,500 absentee ballots that we counted,” she said.

Local election officials are responsible for determining whether a person has a sufficient reason for voting by mail, as outlined by state law.

A few include: Being over 60 years of age, a disability, certain medical illnesses, being a caretaker of someone older than 60, or with underlying health issues, and being outside the county on election day. A college student or truck driver are good examples.

Being afraid of coronavirus isn’t enough to request an absentee ballot this election. Knopf explained, while that was enough in the August election, the Tennessee Supreme Court has since tightened the qualifications.

It’s a job they take seriously.

Knopf offered an example of their due diligence when deciding who meets the qualifications for voting by mail.

“If a husband comes in and requests an absentee ballot for himself and his wife, we ask for him to call his wife…we need to speak to the wife before we will issue him a request, for her, to take home and fill out, and return to us.”

She also explained voter fraud is a felony in Tennessee. A conviction would permanently revoke a person’s voting rights.

Once you receive an absentee ballot, she said, it is your first mode of voting; however, if you still choose to vote in-person, either early or on election day, you will have to fill out a green provisional ballot. Knopf added those are counted after election day, to ensure a person didn’t also mail an absentee ballot.

To count in the general election, ballots must arrive to the election commission before the polls close. In fact, she recommends mailing your ballot at least seven days before Nov. 3. The deadline to request an absentee ballot in Tennessee is October 27.

She also pointed out the many steps their team have taken to ensure in-person voting is safe. In addition to mask wearing and distancing, voters will be asked to use provided hand sanitizer. They’ll be provided single-use pens to sign. Plexiglass will be installed to protect workers and the public.

Voters in Blount County will be given a glove for the hand they use to touch the voting machine. The machines, Knopf also noted, will be cleaned between each use.

“It is so safe. It’s safer than going to the grocery story, I’m telling you,” she added.

Early voting runs October 14-29.

Blount County also has a new early voting location, which will replace the courthouse, to help with social distancing. It will be at the old Goodies location at the Foothills Mall, Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m.

The last day to register to vote in Tennessee is Oct. 5.

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