How to Vote in Memphis for 2020 Election – UPDATED

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic circumstances, many voters continue to have questions and concerns about their options to vote in Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee. Here is my updated guide.

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, I previously wrote a guide for voters in Memphis for mail-in voting for the 2020 election.

Ballot flying into a mailbox.
Martín Elfman for NPR

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.

On September 9, 2020 the U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville ruled that first-time voter are not required to vote in-person if they have a legal reason to vote by-mail. The case is A.P.R.I. v. TRE HARGETT, in his official capacity as Secretary of State of the State of Tennessee, MARK GOINS, in his official capacity as Coordinator of Elections for the State of Tennessee, and AMY WEIRICH, in her official capacity as the District Attorney General for Shelby County, Tennessee. The State of Tennessee continue to fight the order and seek enforcement of this law against first-time voters.

November 3, 2020 is election day. Polls close on election day at 7 p.m.

Deadline to request an absentee ballot is October 27, 2020.

October 5, 2020 is the voter registration deadline.

Vote, Button, Election, Elect, Campaign, Patriotic

In-person early voting scheduled for October 14, 2020 to October 29, 2020. Various locations and open/close times. Here is a map of early voting locations in Shelby County.

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 in advance, and make sure you have valid voter ID, through the Shelby County Election Commission website

  1. Register to Vote  — immediately!
    • October 5, 2020 is the registration deadline. Tennessee now has online voter registration. You can register online, check your registration status, and/or update your address if you’ve moved.
    • Map your assigned voting location if you plan to vote in-person.
    • FIRST TIME VOTERS and/or if this is your first time voting in Shelby County [see: College Students]: “Pursuant to the September 9, 2020 Order of the U.S. District Court, first-time voters are not required to vote in-person if they meet a legal reason to vote by-mail. […] First-time voters may be required to include a copy of ID with their ballot. Instructions will be sent with the ballots.”
  1. Request your Absentee ballot — early!
    • In Tennessee, Absentee voting is the same thing as Mail-In voting.
    • Check Tennessee and Shelby County Legal Reasons for 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.
  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.
  1. 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.
  1. Help a friend — pass this on!

Michelle Obama said: If you want to vote by mail, you need to request your absentee ballot TODAY!
Kamala Harris said: if you are planning to vote, plan how you will vote TODAY!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 117593852_10157326877906104_6515831013989674075_o.jpg

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


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

Vote 411: Tennessee Voting Information

Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law: Judge Orders Immediate Expansion of Vote-by-Mail in Tennessee – September 9, 2020

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