A file photo of the Washington County Election Commission’s voting precinct in the county’s historic courthouse in Jonesborough. 

By J.H. OSBORNE, Kingsport Times News

BLOUNTVILLE — If you read a post on social media that says voters worried about mail service should drop their absentee ballots off in person, you need to know that’s not an option in Tennessee.

Rules differ in Virginia.

It is possible, currently, for Tennessee voters to request an absentee-by-mail ballot if they/or someone for whom they are a caregiver have/has “an illness, physical disability or other underlying health condition that makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19, and who, because of that condition, are unable to appear in the polling place on Election Day,” according to the Tennessee Secretary of State Election Division’s website. And “a physician’s statement is not required” to do so.

With public concerns over COVID-19 and in the Nov. 3 election, which includes the race for president of the United States, running high, the Times News asked Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Jason Booher to explain the absentee-by-mail option for our readers.

Requests for an absentee-by-mail ballot are available online on the Sullivan County Election Commission’s website at www.scelect.org. The first day voters could request one for the Nov. 3 election was Aug. 5. The last day to request a ballot is Oct. 27.

The deadline for completed absentee ballots to be received by the Election Commission is 5 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

“An application to vote absentee by-mail can be submitted in-person, by mail, email or fax,” Booher said. “Upon receipt of a properly completed application a ballot will be mailed from the election office to the voter. State law has always required that a voter mail their completed ballot by mail. Hand delivery of a ballot to the election office or polling location is prohibited by law. State law does not permit the use of ballot drop boxes.”

Booher said posts on social media that share incorrect information have had a negative impact on the election process.

“Misinformation via social media, primarily Facebook, is increasingly detrimental to our ability to conduct each election,” Booher said. “In fact, it is increasingly detrimental to all of society. I would encourage voters to only consider reliable and trusted sources for any and all news and information. A post written or shared from a total stranger is not and never will be a reliable source.”

Another detail that voters might want to consider before rushing to request an absentee-by-mail ballot is that is should not be seen as a “back up plan” just in case they decide later that they don’t want to vote in person.

It’s possible to cast an in-person ballot after you’ve requested an absentee-by-mail ballot, but it isn’t as easy as just showing up at the polls and casting a regular ballot.

“Once a voter is mailed a ballot, a provisional ballot is the only manner in which a voter may vote in-person,” Booher said. “This is intended to serve as a ‘safety net’ for voters who have misplaced or did not receive their ballot. While a voter could legally ‘change their mind’ and vote in-person, it is not recommended because the process of voting provisionally does take a considerable amount of additional documentation and time.”

All provisions of voting, including absentee by-mail, are carried out pursuant to state law, Booher said, and state law permits voting absentee by-mail for voters that meet one of the legal reasons for doing so.

All voters must apply to vote absentee by-mail by submitting an application or providing each of the following:

• Name of the voter.

• Address of the voter’s residence.

• Complete social security number of the voter.

• Date of birth of the voter.

• Address to mail the ballot.

• Legal reason for voting absentee by-mail.

• Signature of voter.

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