Changes you need to know before voting in Knox County; unprecedented absentee ballots could cause delay in final results

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– Due to COVID-19, voting won’t be exactly the same for the upcoming August primary elections.

Chris Davis, Knox County Elections Administrator, said voters will notice two big differences Thursday: COVID-19 related safety precautions and paper ballots.

Some of those safety precautions include hand sanitizer at the entrance of polling locations, election workers wearing masks, sneeze guards in front of registrars, voters urged to use their own pens and each station gets sanitized between voters.

Masks in Knox County are required due to a mandate, but masks are not required–although recommended–in polling locations.

“The election commission cannot mandate that somebody wears a mask into a facility because in theory, that could constitute a poll tax. I will tell you that 99% of the voters that came in during early voting had masks on,” Davis said.

Davis said that because of the safety precautions, lines for the polls could be longer.

“There could be some lines getting into the polling place because we’re practicing social distancing and we’re not going to crowd these polling places down. So people could be standing in line. I would recommend probably going in the early afternoon, maybe mid-morning, you know those non-peak times to kind of cut down on the lines,” Davis said.

The paper ballot is another safety precaution in light of COVID-19. Davis said Knox County hasn’t used paper ballots in decades, but it shouldn’t take longer than the electronic system.

“They’ll literally be handed a paper ballot, they’ll have to fill out a paper ballot, just fill in the bubbles as we did in grade school and then run it through a scanner, and the scanner will record the vote and the paper will be a backup,” Davis said.

Much similar to the electronic system, the results of paper ballots will immediately be recorded.

Davis mentioned though, an unprecedented number of absentee ballots will cause a delay of the final results.

“We can’t start counting (absentee ballots) until election day morning. So, we have to open all of those ballots, scan all of those ballots, adjudicate all of those ballots– where the intent is not maybe 100% certain–and our Republican-Democratic absentee ballot counting board will do that. So it could be well into the morning, unfortunately, before we have those absentee results,” Davis said.

Davis said he is expecting between 12,000 to 13,000 absentee ballots this time around.

He said that for a typical primary election, Knox County receives about 800 to 1,000 absentee ballots.

Davis said they have about 30 people reviewing the absentee ballots.

Before voting, remember to check your correct polling location, bring a valid ID and, if possible, a pen.

For more information on voting in Knox County, visit knoxvotes.org

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