Tennessee Election 2020: What you need to know to register, cast your vote
East Tennesseans will take part in a historic Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ready for another busy election season? From a special school board race to legislative and congressional races to the race for president of the United States, your ballot is going to be a full one.
We want to make sure you’re able to easily and smoothly cast your ballot.
Enclosed you’ll find what you need to know to register, early vote, get a mail-in ballot, key election dates, more about the candidates and what to watch for this election season.
Let’s get started!
How to register to vote: Deadline: Oct. 5
First things first: Are you registered to vote in Tennessee?
If not, you’ve got until Oct. 5 to do so for the Nov. 3 election.
The state also has an app you can download to your smartphone or computer with important election registration information. It's called GoVoteTn and you'll find it here.
There are options for registering including by mail and online.
Remember, you have to meet the state’s conditions to be an eligible voter. You have to be a U.S. citizen, a resident of Tennessee, and at least 18 years old before the next election.
Also, If you have been convicted of a felony, your eligibility to register and vote depends upon the crime you were convicted of and the date of your conviction. If your conviction made you ineligible, you may regain your eligibility if your conviction has been expunged or if you have had your voting rights restored, unless you were convicted of a crime that rendered you permanently ineligible to vote.
Want to register by mail? Here’s more information for Knox Countians. If you live in another county, contact your local election commission. Every county has one and you can find yours here.
You need to get voter registration papers to your local election commission at least 30 days before the Nov. 3 election.
Prefer to do it online? The state also offers information about registering online.
Remember that in order to register online, you must have either a Tennessee driver's license or a state Homeland Security ID.
The ballot and dates to remember: Early voting starts Oct. 14
You have several options for voting in this election. The COVID-19 pandemic also has added a wrinkle this fall.
The first two options are routine: There’s an early voting period, and there’s Election Day itself.
Early voting starts Wednesday, Oct. 14, and continues through Thursday, Oct. 29.
Check your local election commission for early voting locations. Knox County’s are located here.
For the Aug. 6 state primary/local general election, early turnout was relatively heavy compared with in-person voting. Election authorities expect -- and hope -- that pattern will continue.
Election Day, of course, is Tuesday, Nov. 3. Polls in East Tennessee are typically open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day, but if you have any doubts you’d better check with your election commission.
If you wait until Nov. 3, it's possible there could be lines at certain times, especially at polling places that are traditionally busy. Presidential elections draw the biggest response. If you're in line at 8 p.m., you'll still be allowed to cast your vote. If you show up at 8:01 p.m., you'll miss out.
But election officials across the state are urging all voters to vote early if at all possible. It ensures the process is smoother for everyone.
Do you know where to vote on Election Day? If you’re going to the poll in person, you have to go to the precinct in which you live.
If you’ve always voted at the same polling station, chances are nothing has changed. If you have any doubts, it’s best to check with your county election commission.
In Knox County, you also can go here to use this interactive guide that will tell you specifically where you have to go.
For most elections, final but unofficial results are known by 11 p.m. that night.
But the ongoing virus outbreak may complicate things. Especially if teams have to hand count a lot of mail-in ballots at the last minute.
Voting by mail in Tennessee: Get requests in by Oct. 27
That brings us to your mail-in ballot option.
If you would prefer to vote by mail this fall, you must meet at least one qualification.
Please note that this year Tennesseans who may be susceptible to COVID-19 or who are caring for someone in similar circumstances can seek a mail-in ballot.
Here are the categories of voters eligible in Tennessee to get a mail-in ballot:
- You are sixty (60) years of age or older.
- You will be outside the county where you are registered during the early voting period and all day on Election Day.
- You are hospitalized, ill or physically disabled and unable to appear at your polling place to vote (this includes persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it). For a list of underlying health conditions that makes a person more susceptible, see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html. A physician’s statement is not required to check this box.
- You are the caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill, or disabled (this includes caretakers for persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which in their determination render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it). For a list of underlying health conditions that makes a person more susceptible, see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html. A physician’s statement is not required to check this box.
- You or your spouse are a full-time student in an accredited college or university outside the county where you are registered.
- You reside in a nursing home, assisted living facility or home for the aged outside your county of residence.
- You are a candidate for office in the election.
- You are observing a religious holiday that prevents you from voting in person during the early voting period and on Election Day.
- You serve as an Election Day official or as a member or employee of the election commission.
- You will be unable to vote in-person due to jury duty.
- You have a physical disability and an inaccessible polling place.
- You or your spouse possess a valid commercial drivers license (CDL) or Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card and you will be working outside the state or county of registration during the open hours of early voting and Election Day and have no specific out-of-county or out-of-state address to which mail may be sent or received during such time.
- You are a member of the military or are an overseas citizen.
- You are on the permanent absentee list.
You can ask your local election commission for a mail-in ballot application. They're available right now.
Here’s what the application for a mail-in ballot looks like.
Don’t delay in filling it out! Oct. 27 is the deadline for the election commission to accept the form.
Did you know you can track the path of your mail-in ballot once they're in play? Check this out for more from the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office.
According to the state, you'll be able to see when the ballot was mailed to you and when they received it back from you.
You’ve got until Election Day itself to return by mail your actual mail-in ballot. But election officials strongly urge you to mail it back as soon as possible to ensure it’s counted. Don't delay.
More than 11,000 Knox County voters -- an unprecedented number -- mailed in their ballots before the Aug. 6 poll, and as a result county administrators were able to handle the load without delay.
Only a couple hundred mail-in ballots arrived Aug. 6 in Knox County. Unofficial returns were out by about 11 p.m., a relief to the Election Commission.
Remember: The sooner you send your ballot in, the better. It'll stay locked away in a box until the Election Commission is ready to start processing it on election day.
Who are you voting for?: President is just one race on the ballot
Sorry, that’s really none of our business. But it is YOUR business.
The presidential race will be the big draw. Nine candidates qualified to run for president in Tennessee.
And there are plenty of other contests on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Depending on the county you live in, you may have some county-specific issues to weigh in on. For example, Knox County voters are being asked to fill a school board vacancy for District 6.
Knox County voters will also be asked to decide whether they want to retain the county’s elected law director position and what power the mayor should have when it comes to signing contracts.
But state legislative and U.S. congressional races dominate most ballots in East Tennessee.
Voters across the state will pick someone to replace retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville.
Here’s what a sample ballot for Knox County looks like. Your local election commission also can show you what one looks like in your county.
Republican Bill Hagerty wants to replace Alexander and has the advantage of living in a state that has favored Republicans.
Marquita Bradshaw, a Memphis Democrat, surprised many in August by defeating James Mackler, the presumed frontrunner, as the nominee.
U.S. House, District 1
Diana Harshbarger beat out a crowded Republican field in August to become the party’s nominee to replace the retiring Phil Roe.
She’s being challenged by Blair Walsingham for a Tri-Cites area seat that includes Sevier County.
U.S. House, District 2
Republican Tim Burchett looks to retain his House seat after first winning election in 2018.
Democrat Renee Hoyos is once again challenging him in the district that includes Knoxville and Blount and Loudon counties.
U.S. House, District 3
Republican incumbent Chuck Fleischmann of Ooltewah, who began serving in 2011, is running for reelection.
He’s opposed by Democrat Meg Gorman, a Chattanooga native, in the district that includes Anderson, Roane, Campbell, Morgan counties and the Chattanooga area.
U.S. House, District 4
Republican incumbent Scott DesJarlais of Jasper, Tenn., who began serving in 2011, is running for reelection.
He’s opposed by Democrat Christopher Hale, of Murfreesboro, for the district that includes Cumberland County.
General Assembly races
All state House districts are up for election. It amounts to too many to detail here.
You’ll find an interactive map of all the House districts in East Tennessee here.
Some state Senate districts also are up for election, including District 6, which includes much of Knoxville, District 8, which includes Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union counties, and District 12, which includes Campbell, Fentress and Roane counties.
You can find a state Senate district map here.