MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Coronavirus concerns are top of mind as the Shelby County Election Commission gets ready for the first day of early voting.
Friday at 11, people will begin casting ballots for the Aug. 6 federal and state primary and the county general elections. The Shelby County Elections Commission administrator says they’ve spent months adapting to changes to make sure this is a safe election.
“All of our staff will be wearing masks,” said Shelby County Elections Administrator Linda Phillips. “We have face shields, we’ll have gloves. We have hand sanitizer, we have plastic bags where people can put their hands, and people don’t have to touch anything. Disposable styluses for the voting machines. Everybody will have their own individual pen. We have gallons and gallons of disinfectant.”
Social distancing will also be in full effect.
“We have 5,000 orange social distancing stickers that will be on the floor. People will be waiting six feet apart from each other when they go to check in,” Phillips said. “There’ll be a plexiglass shield between the voter and the poll worker. We will not touch the voters ID. The voter will place it in a little tray, and we’ll examine it there, but we won’t touch it.”
Recently, Phillips has been monitoring elections in other cities. She hopes voters here cooperate.
“Most of the conflicts seem to be coming from the mask or no mask crowd,” Phillips said. “We are encouraging voters to wear a mask because it’s the safe and responsible thing to do. We’ll have mask available for those voters who don’t have one, but we cannot force a voter to wear a mask. Voting is a constitutional right, and we can’t put any further restrictions on it.”
Phillips expects fewer people voting in person since COVID-19 concerns allow more Tennesseans to mail in absentee ballots. They’ve received about 13,000 requests so far. They’re processed daily.
The last day to request an absentee ballot is July 30. It must be received by mail Aug. 6, which is election day.
“Once you have asked for an absentee ballot, you cannot vote in person,” Phillips said, “so even just the act of asking for the ballot prohibits you from voting in any other way.”
Phillips stresses you must return absentee ballots through the mail. You can’t drop them off at the election office or a polling place.
Any applications processed so far are for the August 6 primary. If you want to vote by mail in the presidential election in November, you must request another application. Those have not been put out, yet.