Hamilton Co. sees absentee spike, prepares for polling during pandemic


CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — Tennesseans can currently choose to vote by mail in the upcoming august primary because of COVID-19. This new order is being challenged by the state. However, Tennessee Valley counties, including Hamilton County, are already seeing an uptick in absentee ballot requests.

“No one should have to choose between their health and their vote,” said Lisa Bilbrey Hyder, president of the League of Women Voters of Chattanooga.

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Absentee ballot requests continue to increase across the state, as Tennessee voters now have the option to stay home for the August primary.

Marion County says their absentee numbers are up. Bradley County has already seen four times the amount of requests.

In Hamilton County, absentee ballots typically yield 1,800 votes for an August primary. However, this year, 2,500 have already requested a mail in ballot — with a month left before the July 30 request deadline.

“Certainly as the number of absentee ballots increase, we have to make amends for the increase volume for absentee ballots, the additional funding for the mailing of the absentee ballots, as well as the additional staff to adjudicate absentee ballots on Election Day,” said Hamilton County Administrator of Elections Kerry Steelman.

Voters can cite that it is “impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 situation” thanks to an order by the Davidson County Chancellor. However, the state of Tennessee is currently appealing the request form additions.

“These elections here in 2020 are being held during a pandemic,” Hyder said. “Tennesseans have to have every possible option available for voting so they can cast their votes safely.”

If you do choose to vote in person, all precincts will use disposable pens and folders, allow for social distancing, and provide hand sanitizer.

You can also vote early at one of these four locations in Hamilton County:

  • Hamilton County Election Commission
  • Brainerd YFD Center
  • Collegedale City Hall
  • Hixson Community Center

Exact addresses and hours can be found here.

“If ever there has been a time in this county where early voting is the best option, now is that time,” Steelman said. “We have large facilities that we use for early voting that would permit larger gatherings of individuals to be able to vote as opposed to smaller precincts on Election Day.”

To download an absentee ballot request form, go to the Secretary of State’s website.

First time voters are still required by law to register and vote for the first time in person, regardless of and COVID-19 concerns.

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Angela joined the News 12 team in November of 2017 as the weekend sports anchor and reporter. Angela is a proud member of an Army family, which means she has hometowns all over the Eastern Seaboard. Most recently, she calls Peachtree City, Georgia, home, where she graduated from Trinity Christian School and spent her free time driving her purple golf cart. She then headed to Milledgeville, Georgia, to attend Georgia College and State University. A proud Bobcat, Angela graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in Mass Communication and represented her December 2016 class as one of three valedictorians. Angela comes to the Scenic City from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she worked at the NBC affiliate, WMBF News. Before the big move, she worked as Georgia College's Sports Information Assistant, which let her get paid to be the Bobcats' biggest fan. It all started in Savannah, Georgia, though, where she interned for SAV's number one station, WTOC. When she's not working, you can find Angela watching the New York Giants, Rangers or basically any other game that's on. She also loves traveling, hiking and exploring new places, all with her camera in hand. If you have any story ideas, big or small, feel free to reach out to her on Facebook and Twitter, or email her at amoryan@wdef.com."