Knox County voters have more options than ever to cast their ballots for the 2020 general election, but those choices can be overwhelming. Knox News is committed to giving community members the information they need to vote.
We created this Knoxville voting guide to provide the information you need to know to make a voting plan and answer all your questions about this critical election. No matter how or when you vote, we’re here to help you ace this election.
Election 2020: Why is this election so important to you?
Voters in Tennessee share their thoughts on the importance of the 2020 election.
Mike Fant, Nashville Tennessean
Do you still have questions about voting in Knox County? Email [email protected], and we will work to get you answers.
Oct. 5: The last day to register to vote in Tennessee.
Oct. 14-29: Early voting period; hours vary by location.
Oct. 27: The last day to request an absentee ballot in Tennessee. Completed ballots must be delivered by mail to the county election commission no later than the close of polls on Nov. 3.
Nov. 3: Election Day. Polls are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Everyone in line before close is allowed to vote.
More: Everything Knox County residents need to know about voting in the 2020 presidential election
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Voters who are unable to go to the polls in person may request absentee ballots, but there are restrictions on who can or cannot vote by mail. The long list of qualifiers includes being 60 years of age or older, or if you or someone you care for is susceptible to contracting COVID-19. Find out if you meet the requirements for an absentee ballot request at sos.tn.gov/products/elections/absentee-voting.
More: Want to vote by mail? You need to start now.
If you are eligible to vote by mail and choose to do so, you will have to send in an absentee ballot request. The local county election commission office will accept complete requests by mail, fax and email. Knox County residents should address their requests to 300 W. Main St.; Knox County Courthouse Room 218; Knoxville, TN 37902-1850. The fax number is 865-215-4239. Email requests can be sent to [email protected].
Here is what you will need to include in your absentee ballot request:
- Name of the registered voter
- Address of the voter’s residence
- Voter’s social security number
- Voter’s date of birth
- Address to mail the ballot
- The election in which the voter wishes to participate
- A reason why the voter wishes to vote absentee.
- If applicable, include a copy of the CDL with the CDL number, or the TWIC card must be included in the voter’s request.
- Voter’s written signature
The absentee ballot request deadline is Oct. 27. Ballots must be completed and returned to the election commission office by Nov. 3. Voters can track their ballots at tnmap.tn.gov/voterlookup.
This means you’ll have to mail in your completed ballot well before Election Day to allow the post office enough time to deliver it to county officials.
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When is early voting?
Early voting in Tennessee begins Oct. 14 and ends Oct. 29. Hours vary by day and location. If a voter misses early voting and does not vote by mail, they must vote at his or her designated polling location on Nov. 3 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
More: Early voting is open! Here’s what you need to know about casting a ballot in Knox County
Where to early vote in Knox County
There are 11 early voting locations in Knox County this year. Voters can choose any of the polling places to cast their ballots.
The Tennessee voter lookup tool, available at tnmap.tn.gov/voterlookup, generates a list of early voting locations and hours as well as a voter’s Election Day polling place. Early voting locations and schedules also can be accessed at knoxcounty.org/election.
Early voting locations in Knox County:
- Carter Senior Center – 9040 Asheville Highway
- City-County Building, Small Assembly Room – 400 Main St.
- Downtown West – 1645 Downtown W. Blvd., Unit 40
- Farragut Town Hall – 11408 Municipal Center Drive
- Halls Recreation Center – 6933 Recreation Lane
- Howard H. Baker Jr. Center (University of Tennessee campus) – 1640 Cumberland Ave. *NOTE: This location is only open for early voting Oct. 26-29.
- Karns Senior Center – 8042 Oak Ridge Highway
- Knoxville Expo Center – 5441 Clinton Highway
- Love Kitchen – 2418 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.
- Meridian Baptist Church – 6513 Chapman Highway
- New Harvest Park – 4775 New Harvest Lane
Early voting hours
Hours vary depending on the day and place you vote. The City-County Building, Howard H. Baker Jr. Center, Karns Senior Center and Meridian Baptist Church have different schedules than the other locations on the list.
Early voting hours for most polling places:
- Oct. 14-24 polls are open Monday to Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Oct. 26-29 voting hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Early voting hour exceptions:
- City-County Building will be open Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. during the weeks of early voting except the following: Oct. 17 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Oct. 24 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Oct. 26-29 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
- Howard H. Baker Jr. Center will only be open the final week of early voting (Oct. 26-29) 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
- Karns Senior Center will be open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Friday and closed on Saturdays.
- Meridian Baptist Church will close at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays (Oct. 14, 21 and 28).
Voters must go to the polling place listed on their registration if they choose to vote on Election Day, Nov. 3. Double-check your designated voting location at tnmap.tn.gov/voterlookup or using the GoVoteTN app.
More: Voting in Knox County: A guide to mail-in, early and in-person voting for Election 2020
Remember to bring a valid ID before heading to the polls. Here’s what is acceptable:
- Tennessee driver’s license with your photo
- U.S. passport
- Photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
- Photo ID issued by the federal or Tennessee state government
- U.S. military photo ID
- Tennessee handgun carry permit with your photo
Voting will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. If you are in line before 8 p.m., you cannot be turned away.
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What will your ballot look like?
Ballots vary by district, county and state. Not only are ballot questions different, but the designs also change to protect against fraud. What your ballot will look like depends on whether you’re voting by mail or in person too.
Despite their importance, ballots aren’t intimidating. Davis suggests voters look over their ballot before mailing it or going to the polls. Reviewing your ballot cuts down the time it takes to vote, meaning a more efficient election for everyone.
Knox County residents can view a sample ballot online at knoxcounty.org/election. Ballotpedia also offers an online tool to search for sample ballots anywhere. Know your options and understand what the questions mean to make an informed decision this election.
More: How to fill out your presidential election ballot and what mistakes voters must avoid
More: What do the questions on the ballot mean? Breaking down the Knox County charter referendums
How to mark your ballot
When voters have their ballot in hand, they should read all instructions before making marks on the page. Knox County ballots require voters to completely fill in a rectangle next to their choices with a blue or black ink pen. Don’t write an X or check mark, and be careful to avoid stray marks. Write-in candidate names should be written on the dashed line next to a filled-in rectangle.
People voting by mail have one chance to correctly mark their ballots unless they notify the election commission that it is unusable. Voters going to the polls should also aim to get their ballot right the first time, but the scanner will let them know if something is wrong before they leave.
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The coronavirus is a serious cause for concern when it comes to voting, but there are ways for voters to protect themselves and others during this election.
Of course, the safest way to vote is by mail. Knox County residents can request an absentee ballot with a valid excuse through Oct. 27. Absentee ballots must be correctly completed and delivered by mail to the election commission no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. If voters are unable to or do not wish to vote by mail, polling places will be open for early voting through Oct. 29 and on Election Day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“COVID has changed everything we do,” Davis said. “On top of everything else we have to do to make the election happen this year, we’re making sure our polling places are safe from the virus.”
Poll workers and officials wear masks, socially distance and sanitize frequently. Masks can not be required of voters because of legalities, but Davis hopes in-person voters will do the same out of respect for people who run the precincts.
Voting location layouts also have been changed to accommodate physical distancing standards. Spots are marked every six feet in line by tape, and many precincts are directing lines outside. Physical spacing while voting will be difficult. Between poll workers, election officials, poll watchers and voters, the responsibility will be on everyone to be aware of who’s nearby.
Knox County election officials switched to a paper ballot system in August and will use paper for the November election, too. Paper ballots are a contact-free and physically distanced way to vote. Voters can choose to use a sanitized pen at the polls or bring their own blue or black ink pen.
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Davis said a lot of things have kept him up in the early hours of the morning, especially in preparation for this election, but the safety of the election commission’s database is not one of them.
Paper ballots cut out many of the cybersecurity threats election officials worry about. They’re not letting down their guards, however.
More: Here’s how Knox County election officials are keeping voting safe, secure
All computers and machines used for elections are never connected to the internet. The commission’s database, which holds voters’ personal information and their voting record, is maintained and protected by Knox County, so it is entirely separate from the voting system.
Technical difficulties like printer malfunctions are expected and can cause long lines. The commission has the people and resources ready to make any last-minute fixes if needed.
“Unless somebody is going to pull a “Mission Impossible” and repel down through the ceiling with a rope and a mask on and go all ninja style,” Davis said. “I feel pretty good about the security of our machines.”
How are ballots being protected?
Many voters may be unfamiliar with paper ballots, but the process actually can be more transparent, especially for people voting in person.
After checking in with a poll worker, voters are asked to sign a ballot application and hand it over to receive their ballot. A poll worker will print a paper ballot in front of the voter, instruct them to fill out the front and back and direct them to the voting partitions. Voters can put their ballots in the scanner by hand before exiting, leaving little room for ballot mishandling.
Voting by mail is slightly different but just as secure. Election officials review each application carefully and triple-check voter information, including signatures. Once the commission receives completed absentee ballots in the mail, officials store the ballots at an off-site locked location. Ballot boxes aren’t opened until Election Day morning, and ballots are supervised until each one has been counted.
Ending voter intimidation
Voter intimidation is defined under the law as the use of threats, coercion, or attempts to intimidate for the purpose of interfering with the right of another person to vote or to vote for the person of their choosing. It is illegal and is punishable by a $1,000 fine, imprisonment for up to a year or both.
Voter intimidation can manifest in a number of ways but is most prevalent face-to-face.
More: Explaining poll watchers: Who are they and what do they do in Knox County elections?
The election officer has the authority to handle situations at the polls however they see fit. Corrective actions like asking someone to leave and calling 911 for reinforcement can be taken.
If a voter suspects intimidation like harassment or threats, they should alert the officer of elections, poll workers or commission administrator immediately.
Despite concerns about voter intimidation, violence during a contentious election and more, law enforcement agencies in Knox County are planning to conduct business as usual during the election. Election laws also limit law enforcement’s powers at the polls.
“Tennessee law basically says that police can’t come within 10 feet of the door of a polling place except either to vote or at the request of the officer of elections,” Davis said. “So you won’t see police around our polling places unless we’ve called them for some reason.”
The only other exceptions to this rule are officers who are stationed near precincts to help with logistical issues like replacing a broken ballot machine and escorting election officials so they can deliver supplies and check in with other precincts.
Neither the Knoxville Police Department nor the Knox County Sheriff’s Office have made any plans to boost staffing, station police near polling places or dedicate patrol officers to handling only election-related issues.
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The Knox County Election Commission and Tennessee Secretary of State websites are hubs for voting information. There, you can request an absentee ballot, find your polling place and more on
The GoVoteTN app also is free to download and provides easy access to everything you need to know before Election Day. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.