Early voting will look different this year

Numerous safety precautions are in place

Early voting for the Thursday, Aug. 6, election begins this Friday, July 17, and runs through Saturday, Aug. 1.

Polling hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday – Friday and from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturdays.

As in past early voting periods, there are three locations in Anderson County to cast early ballots — two locations are the same, but the Clinton location has changed:

• The Anderson County Government Building in North Anderson County in the Anderson Crossing center at the junction of Andersonville Highway and U.S. 441;

• Midtown Community Center in Oak Ridge (The Wildcat Den) near the new Kroger grocery store;

• To cast an early ballot in Clinton voters may do so at the Anderson County Fairgrounds. Due to COVID-19, the Clinton Community Center remains closed.

Anderson County Adminstrator of Elections Marks Stevens said the Anderson County Fair Association has “graciously volunteered” the use of its building for early voting.

Stevens said the fair building offers ample space to allow for social distancing during polling hours. He said there will be ample signage to direct voters to the location if they are not familiar with it.

There will be other “differences” early voters will see.

Early voting will be “hands-free,” Stevens said. Voters will be given an ink pen they will use to sign in with and also use as stylus on the voting machines.

At no time will a voter have to touch the voting machines.

All poll workers will wear masks, but Stevens said he can’t require voters to wear a mask.

“Hopefully, they (voters) will exercise their judgment and bring a mask,” he said.

Stevens said there will be floor signs to help people practice social distancing, and there will be plenty of hand sanitizer available.

There will also be plexiglass between the voters and the poll workers.

Also, Stevens noted, polling places will be cleaned “rigorously” before the polls open, during the day, and after polls close.

“It’s not perfect, I don’t think a perfectly sterile environment exists,” Stevens said. “But if you can go to the grocery store or the convenience store or the hardware store … On a scale of one to 10, with one being the safest, the polls will be a one.”

Stevens said voting will be “safer than going to the store.”

Still, voting during a pandemic is worrisome for those who are “high risk,” and the numbers of mail-in ballots requested reflects that.

This year, the Anderson County Election Commission sent out 1,003 mail-in ballots.

Stevens said the majority of those were to voters over 60 years of age, but about 40 mail-in ballots were requested due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Last election, we sent out 193 mail-in ballots,” Stevens said. “So, we’re up about 500-percent.”

Voting does not stop because of a pandemic, but Stevens said the Election Commission is making voting safety a top priority.

“We want to keep the voters safe. We want to keep our poll workers safe,” he said.