How To Vote By Mail in Memphis for 2020 election

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic circumstances, many voters have questions and concerns about their options to vote by mail in Tennessee. I recently listened to a 15-minute podcast episode of NPR Life Kit giving a general overview of mail-in voting in America. Following their outline: Here is my guide for voters in Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee for mail-in voting for the 2020 election.

On August 5, 2020 the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that voters who have 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 may request to vote by-mail. Caretakers of those especially vulnerable to COVID-19 may also request to vote by-mail. Fear of contracting or spreading the virus will not apply as an excuse to vote absentee in Tennessee.

November 3, 2020 is election day, with in-person early voting scheduled for October 14, 2020 to October 29, 2020 in Shelby County. Assume that Phase 1 social distancing protocol will continue to apply – wear a face mask and keep more than six feet distance while waiting in line. Check your voter status, polling station location/hours, and make sure you have valid voter ID through the Shelby County Election Commission website www.ShelbyVote.com Polls close on election day at 7 p.m.

  1. Register to Vote  — immediately!
    • Applications should be postmarked or received no later than September 30, 2020 to meet the October 5, 2020 registration deadline.
    • Check your Tennessee and Shelby County Voter Eligibility
    • FIRST TIME VOTERS and/or if this is your first time voting in Shelby County: you may NOT vote by mail unless you register to vote IN-PERSON at the Shelby County Election Commission Office with this paper form and your valid Voter ID.
980 Nixon Drive
Memphis, TN  38134
157 Poplar, Suite 137
Memphis, TN  38103
  1. Request your Absentee ballot — early!
    • Absentee voting is the same thing as Mail-In voting.
    • Check your Tennessee and Shelby County Absentee Voter Eligibility updated with special COVID-19 provisions.
    • Under Tennessee law, once you have requested an absentee ballot, you cannot vote in person for that election except by provisional ballot.
    • You may file a Request for Absentee Ballot between August 5, 2020 and October 27, 2020. Even though that is the legal deadline, waiting until 7 days prior to the election will make it nearly impossible to receive your ballot and mail it back before the November 3, 2020 election day deadline. Please request and return your ballot as early as possible.
    • The Shelby County Request for Absentee Ballot DOES NOT include any specific COVID-19 language, I assume the following interpretation:
COVID-19 provisionCheckbox on Form
Voters who have 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 and instead wish to vote by-mail should check this box.
For a list of underlying health conditions that makes a person especially vulnerable see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/
A physician’s statement is not required to check this box.
I am hospitalized, ill, or physically disabled, and I am unable to vote in person.
Voters who are the caretaker of someone with an illness, physical disability or other underlying health condition that makes a person you care for especially vulnerable to COVID-19, and who wish to vote by-mail should check this box.
For a list of underlying health conditions that makes a person especially vulnerable see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/
A physician’s statement is not required to check this box.
I am a caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill, or physically disabled.
  1. Fill out your ballot — correctly!
    • Military and Overseas Citizen ballots will start being mailed out 45 days prior to election day. All other absentee requests will follow and will start being mailed to voters no later than 30 days prior to election day.
    • You can confirm the accuracy of your ballot by comparing it to the Shelby County general election sample ballot.
    • Read and follow the instructions on every piece of paper and envelope included with your ballot, fill in all bubbles and blanks neatly and completely.
    • Don’t forget to sign your ballot! Make sure your signature matches the signature on your driver’s license and/or voter registration form.
  2. Return your ballot — promptly!
    • Absentee ballots will be accepted until 7 p.m. on Election Day. Any ballot received after 7 p.m. on Election Day will be rejected.
    • Ballots must be delivered by the USPS, FedEx, UPS or a courier service. They cannot be hand delivered, faxed, or emailed.
    • Keep in mind that the USPS delivery standards changed in 2016 so that First Class delivery went from 1-3 days to 2-5 days and Standard delivery is now 2-9 days. If you use USPS, go to post office in-person, pay for tracking service, and take a photo of your post marked envelope.
    • If there are errors on your ballot, you may get an opportunity to correct and/or vote by provisional ballot on election day if you communicate with the election commission.
  3. Help a friend — pass this on!

My Sources:

NPR Life Kit: How To Vote By Mail: A Guide

Tennessee Secretary of State: Absentee Voting

Shelby County Election Commission: Voting Absentee

Memphis Public Library: Informed Voter

Tennessee Supreme Court: VACATES TEMPORARY INJUNCTION, LEAVING IN PLACE STATE’S REVISED INTERPRETATION OF LAW LIMITING ABSENTEE VOTING IN ELECTIONS AFTER AUGUST 6, 2020 ELECTION

ABA Journal: Top state court reverses order that would’ve added fear of COVID-19 to absentee voting excuses

CDC: People Who Are at Increased Risk for Severe Illness

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