More Blount Countians already have voted absentee for the August federal and state primary and county general election than ever before, Blount County Administrator of Elections Susan Knopf said.
“My opinion is it is directly a result of COVID concerns for the elderly,” Knopf said.
About 400 voters listed COVID-19 as their reason for requesting an absentee ballot, Knopf said, adding that 72% of absentee ballots in the county were from people aged 60 and older.
Of the 1,494 absentee ballots requested by Democrats, 1,074 of those were voters older than 60. Of the 1,144 Republican ballots, 826 were.
Altogether, the Blount County Election Commission has received 971 absentee ballots from Democrats and 694 from Republicans as of July 29.
In the same amount of early voting days in 2016, the commission received 104 Democrat absentee ballots and 262 from Republicans — meaning Democrats voting absentee in the county this year has increased by 834%, and Republicans voting absentee by 165%.
If a voter does not mail in an absentee ballot by the close of polls on Aug. 6, the ballot will not be counted. Any voter who has received an absentee ballot is required by law to vote absentee and cannot vote at the polls, Knopf said.
Also per state law, the commission will not count absentee ballots until Election Day, Aug. 6, Knopf said.
Absentee ballot requests for the Nov. 3 general election will be accepted beginning Aug. 5. The Election Commission will send the ballots to voters in late September.
The increase in absentee voting is not the only voter experience that has spiked during this election.
Approximately 1,058 Democrats, or 65.6% more than in 2016, and 5,338 Republicans, or 31.5% more than in 2016, voted at early voting locations between July 17-29.
Of the four early voting locations, the Election Commission in the Blount County Courthouse and the Blount County Public Library, both in Maryville, have had the most early voters, Knopf said. The newest early voting location, Providence Baptist Church in Seymour, has seen the least traffic.
Knopf said both voters and poll workers have responded well to sanitary adjustments the Election Commission has implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The precautions have included hand sanitizer, wearing gloves while operating voting machines and offering masks to people who do not have one.
“Poll workers have been very happy with the mask mandate,” Knopf said. “Only a few voters have expressed disinterest in wearing a mask offered to them — 95% have come prepared with a mask.”
Early voting ends Saturday, Aug. 1. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 6.