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Voting by mail possible for all in Tennessee – at least for now

The Unicoi County Election Commission met on Monday, June 8, to prepare for upcoming 2020 elections. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Although many things are up in the air in Tennessee with regards to the 2020 elections, the Unicoi County Election Commission is ready, according to Unicoi County Election Administrator Sarah Fain.

“We are prepared to move ahead in whichever direction the state decides,” Fain said.

Fain is referring to a recent ruling by Davidson County Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle that ruled that the state of Tennessee must give all registered voters the choice to cast a ballot by mail.

Prior to Judge Lyle’s ruling, only residents over the age of 60 were able to vote by mail due to health, mobility and other concerns. As the ruling stands, everyone is available to mail in their vote as long as they register to do so seven business days prior to election day.

According to Fain, that judgment may face an appeal.

“We anticipate an appeal will be made by the Tennessee Secretary of State on that judgment so we are preparing to move forward either way,” Fain said. “We will do whatever the state recommends. Going forward, our August elections will prepare us for the November elections.”

Helping the commission move forward is a securities grant that will help fund several needs for the commission.

“We are expected to receive $20,000 from the securities grant,” Unicoi County Election Commission Chairman Thomas Reeves said.

According to Fain, the grant funds will update several items.

“We can use those funds to update our computers here and other things to beef up cybersecurity,” Fain said.

Fain confirmed that the state will provide masks, gloves, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer for the poll workers.

“They will provide those items. The state has been incredibly proactive in regards to COVID preparation,” Fain said. “Since the state is providing these items, they will not come out of our grant funds.”

According to Fain, the commission encourages voters to wear face masks and take safety precautions while voting in person.

“We will encourage the voters to consider wearing masks to the poll; it’s not required but we highly encourage they wear them,” Fain said.

During a meeting on Monday, June 8, the Unicoi County Election Commission voted unanimously to provide an incentive bonus for the poll workers due to COVID-19.

“I know it’s early but I think we need to prepare an incentive bonus increase of 50 percent for the poll workers,” Reeves said. “They are going to be on the frontlines and having to work under a mask all day and requiring more work including increased cleaning measures, they definitely deserve it.”

According to Unicoi County Election Commissioner Connie Buchanan, the overall funding for Election Day will go from $7,000 to a little over $10,000.

“That’s really not that much to make sure our poll workers are taken care of,” Buchanan said.

Prior to adjourning, the commission confirmed the polling dates for the Aug. 6 election.

“We will have early voting from July 17 until Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. on Saturday, at the Unicoi County Election Commission office, ” Fain said.