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Open houses planned to explain new paper ballot voting process -- and it's very different from what you're used to

Instead of rotating a small wheel and clicking their choices inside a booth, voters will have to mark their choices on a paper ballot in a booth.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Starting Monday, the Knox County Election Commission will hold open houses to teach the public about the new paper balloting system they'll have to use to vote.

The new system is very different from what Knox County voters are used to seeing.

"It's a huge change," Knox County Election Administrator Chris Davis said Friday.

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Instead of rotating a small wheel and clicking their choices inside a booth, voters will have to physically mark their choices with a pen on a paper ballot in the booth, then walk that ballot over to an electronic scanner.

They'll have to feed that ballot into the scanner and then verify that it has properly recorded their choices of candidates and questions.

Only then will the voting process be complete.

The commission is planning three open houses to explain the new system to interested residents.

The first open house will be 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Monday, July 6 at The Change Center at 203 Harriet Tubman St. 

The second will be 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday, July 8 at the South Knoxville Senior Center, 6729 Martel Lane.

The third will be 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, July 11 at the Downtown West Early Voting Center, 1645 Downtown West Blvd. West Knoxville voters will be familiar with this center because it's usually the busiest early-voting location in the county.

Early voting for the Aug. 6 primary starts Friday, July 17.

The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, July 7.

Davis said one scanner will be at each early voting center, except perhaps at Downtown West, where there may be two.

Votes will be tallied on the scanner on a card and that card will be collected at the end of the day to be returned to election commission headquarters downtown.

Davis urged everyone to vote early to avoid almost certain long lines Aug. 6. One scanner will be at each voting precinct Aug. 6 -- and each ballot scan takes somewhere 10-12 seconds.

If thousands of people wait to cast their paper ballots on Aug. 6 at their precincts, they likely will face longer wait times, he said.

"Be smart. Early vote," he said.

Davis said the process will become easier as voters get used to it. There's an initial learning curve, he said.

Some voters will likely need help with the scanner. Staff will be prepared to assist, but they don't want to get too close because they don't want to violate any voter's privacy, Davis said.

The commission, meanwhile, continues to accept applications to cast an absentee ballot. People concerned about exposure to COVID-19 can apply to get an absentee ballot and then forward a ballot by mail into the election commission.

You can get more information about that here.

Davis said so far more than 6,800 applications for an absentee ballot have been received. In comparison, the county had 5,300 absentee ballots cast in the November 2016 general election.

Absentee ballots must be counted by hand, which slows down the process of tallying votes.

Davis said he's hopeful commission staff will be done counting absentee ballots by 11 p.m., maybe midnight Aug. 6. It's possible, however, that full primary results won't be known until early Aug. 7, he said.

Absentee ballot applications must be received by July 30. Voters must return their absentee ballots by mail by the close of polls Aug. 6.

"We prefer you do it much, much earlier than that," he said.