Tennessee shatters record for absentee ballots, with more than 100,000 people voting by mail

More than 116,000 voters in Tennessee cast an absentee ballot ahead of Thursday’s primary election, shattering previous records set in presidential elections. 

On Thursday, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office told The Tennessean that, through Wednesday, at least 116,000 votes had been cast via absentee ballots.

That total will increase, in part due to at least 20 counties that have yet to provide their latest figures. Additionally, absentee ballots could continue to be collected until the polls close on Thursday. 

Further, data maintained by the Secretary of State’s office indicates Tennessee’s 95 counties had collected more than 95,000 absentee ballots through the end of the Aug. 1 early voting period. 

The state’s previous absentee ballot records for any election were set in the November general elections in 2008, 2012 and 2016. In each of those elections, about 64,000 absentee ballots were cast. 

In the last four August primary elections, there were between 11,000 and nearly 18,000 absentee ballots. 

Of the 95,900 absentee votes tabulated by the state through Aug. 1, more than 60,300 — or 63% — were Democratic primary ballots. Republicans cast about 32,200 absentee ballots through Aug. 1.

More from today: Election day in Tennessee, and a historic surge of mail-in ballots, offer preview of November

So far, 27 counties set all-time records for highest number of absentee ballots cast in any election since at least 1994, the oldest records found on the Secretary of State’s website.

As of Thursday, the state does not have a party breakdown of absentee ballots received since Aug. 1. 

The latest figures come more than a month after a Tennessean review found requests for absentee ballots across the state soaring. In early July, when The Tennessean surveyed all 95 election commissions, more than 57,000 voters had requested an absentee ballot. 

In June, a Davidson County judge ruled that fear of the coronavirus was a valid reason for any registered voter in Tennessee to vote by mail with an absentee ballot.

On Wednesday, a new ruling from the Tennessee Supreme Court could limit absentee voting during the general election. The court ruled fear of COVID-19 will not be a reason to vote by mail in November but said the ballots mailed for Thursday’s election remained valid. 

The decision by the high court removes the order requiring the state to allow COVID-19 concern for anyone to be a valid reason to vote absentee. But the state’s interpretation of the requirements recently expanded to include those who feel they are medically vulnerable to COVID-19, and those who live with or care for them. 

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Reach Joel Ebert at jebert@tennessean.com or 615-772-1681 and on Twitter @joelebert29.



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