Frequently asked questions: Absentee voting in Shelby County

Absentee voting
Absentee voting(MGN)
Updated: Jul. 14, 2020 at 3:39 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The League of Women Voters of Memphis-Shelby County prepared a list of frequently asked questions about absentee voting. Determine if you are eligible to vote absentee in Shelby County and find more information about the process below.

I understand that Tennessee requires voters to meet certain eligibility standards to vote absentee. What are the eligibility standards?

To vote by mail, by absentee ballot in the Aug. 6, 2020 election, a registered voter must fall under one of the following categories:

  • Outside Shelby County during the early voting period and all day on Election Day
  • 60 years of age or older
  • Hospitalized, ill or physically disabled and unable to appear at a polling place to vote; and/or have determined it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 situation
  • A caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill or physically disabled, and/or have determined it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 situation
  • Enrolled as a full-time student or the spouse of a student at an institution outside of Shelby County
  • Resides in relatively permanent care at a licensed facility such as a nursing home located outside Shelby County
  • Has a physical disability and an inaccessible polling place
  • A licensed physician has filed a statement with the Shelby County Election Commission stating that, in the physician’s judgement, the voter is medically unable to vote in person
  • Unable to vote in person due to service as a juror for a federal or state court
  • Serves as an Election Day official or as a member or employee of the Shelby County Election Commission
  • A candidate
  • Observing a religious holiday that prevents him or her from voting in person during the early voting period and on Election Day
  • Voter or the voter’s spouse possesses a valid commercial driver’s license, or the voter possesses a valid Transportation Worker Identification card and certifies that he or she will be working outside Shelby County during early voting and Election Day
  • A member of the military, spouse or dependent; an activated National Guard member on state orders; or an overseas citizen who is qualified to vote in Shelby County elections

Do I have to request an absentee ballot for each election?

Yes, each request is only good for one election with limited exceptions. You will need to complete a new request for each election unless you qualify as a military or overseas voter or if you have been placed on Shelby County’s Permanent Absentee Voting list.

I read that voters in some states can vote absentee during a pandemic due to the risk to their health. Is that also true for Tennesseans?

Yes. A Tennessee court has recently expanded eligibility to vote by mail through absentee ballot to all registered voters for the Aug. 6, 2020 and Nov. 3, 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The application form for voting by absentee ballot has been revised to include concerns about contracting COVID-19 as a valid reason for requesting an absentee ballot. Voters may still choose to vote in-person during early voting and on Election Day.

What if I have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been quarantined because of potential exposure to the virus?

A person who is quarantined because of potential exposure or who has tested positive to COVID-19 should vote absentee by mail as a person who is ill.

What if I want to vote by absentee ballot, but am unsure whether I am registered to vote or want to register now?

It’s easy to verify your voter registration status. Go to to check if you’re registered and, if not currently registered, register to vote. You may also go to the League of Women Voters’ website at to check your voter registration status, register to vote, or obtain information on the races and candidates that will be on your ballot. If you don’t have access to a computer, you can call 901 222-1200 and request a voter registration application be mailed to you. The last day to register to vote for the Aug. 6, 2020 election is July 7, 2020.

How do I request a ballot?

You must submit a written request to the Shelby County Election Commission. You may use the absentee ballot request form, provided on, to ensure all required information is provided. When requesting an absentee ballot for the Aug. 6, 2020 Primary Election, don’t forget to indicate whether you are requesting a Democratic or Republican Party ballot. Mail the form to:

Shelby County Election Commission/P.O. Box 342798/Bartlett, TN 38184-2798

If e-mailing, send your request to Be sure the attached document contains the required information (including the party selection for the Primary Election) and your scanned signature. A signed form can also be scanned and e-mailed. Before making an absentee ballot request, we recommend you check to ensure you are currently registered.

You can also call the election commission at 901-222-6800 or 901-222-1200 to request an absentee ballot request form. They will send you the form to be completed and returned.

What if I do not provide all the information required on the absentee ballot request form?

The county election commission will reject the request form and return it to the voter immediately by mail to be completed and returned. If time permits, a rejected form must be corrected and returned to the Shelby County Election Commission no later than 7 days before the election.

When can I request the ballot?

Requests can be made beginning 90 days before an election. For the Aug. 6, 2020 Primary Election, the deadline to request a ballot is July 30. The week before the request deadline is realistically too short to apply, have the ballot mailed to the voter and returned by Election Day. Do not delay submitting the request to ensure sufficient time for return of the ballot.

How long does it take for the election commission to respond to my application and send me an absentee ballot?

The goal of the election commission is to verify the information provided on the application within a few business days. Upon verification, they send a postcard or email (depending on how they received the application) confirming the receipt of the application and notifying the voter that the ballots will start to go out on approximately July 7 for the Aug. 6, 2020 election. The postcard also directs the voter to email the absentee voting department at if they have questions.

With respect to the process regarding absentee ballots, the voter will receive in the absentee ballot package a ballot, a yellow affidavit envelope and an information sheet. The election commission does not send an automatic confirmation of the receipt of the ballot. The instruction sheet does provide a website that voters may check to confirm its receipt.

The ballot request form asks for my Social Security Number. I am not comfortable giving it out. Can I just write in the last 4 digits?

No. Tennessee law requires the entire Social Security Number. Applications will not be processed without the complete number. Those processing your ballot request form already have access to your Social Security Number. You provided it on your voter registration form.

I just registered to vote online this year. Can I vote absentee in this election?

First time voters who registered on-line or by mail must vote in person in their first election, including full-time students or the spouse of a student enrolled at an institution outside of Shelby County. However, the voter can appear in person at a Shelby County Election Commission location to show their ID and have their status changed to an “in person” registrant. Shelby County Election Commission offices are located at 980 Nixon Drive, Memphis, TN and in downtown Memphis at 157 Poplar Avenue, Suite 137. With their new status as an “in person” registrant they can vote by absentee ballot.

What are the mistakes commonly made when completing and mailing an absentee ballot?

For the vote to be counted, care should be taken to ensure that the voter completely fills in the oval next to the candidate they are voting for and that no stray marks or other writing appears on the ballot. It is recommended that the voter use a black or blue pen. The signature on the ballot must be that of the voter to whom the ballot was issued. If the voter has special needs, they can contact the election commission for additional information.

In addition, the voter should ensure that they have signed the yellow affidavit envelope before returning the ballot.

I messed up my absentee ballot. What do I do?

Contact the Shelby County Election Commission at or call 901-222-1200 or 901-222-6800 to request a new ballot to replace the spoiled one. They will send you one that is marked as a replacement ballot so that only one ballot from you will be counted in the election.

What if I never receive my requested ballot or do not have sufficient time to return it through the mail by election day?

If you have not returned the absentee ballot you requested, you may go to your polling location on Election Day and ask for a provisional ballot. All provisional ballots are checked in the voter computer system, so the election commission will see that the voter who asked for a provisional ballot had requested an absentee ballot and will check to see if a ballot was already received by mail.

Can I drop off my ballot?

No! Tennessee law requires that all absentee ballots be delivered by commercial carrier, such as the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx or UPS. Ballots sent through the U.S. Postal Service should be mailed to Shelby County Election Commission, P.O. Box 342798, Bartlett, TN 38184-2798, the address stated on the self-addressed return envelope provided by the election commission with the ballot.

Ballots returned by other commercial carriers should be sent to Shelby County Election Commission, 980 Nixon Drive, Memphis, TN 38134. The election commission cannot accept ballots that are dropped off by voters at their office.

Is there a way I can ensure my absentee ballot will be received on time by the election commission?

Request your ballot early, upon receipt complete it without delay, and return it to the election commission promptly. Local first-class delivery customarily takes 2-5 days. With increases in absentee voting, delivery times could be slowed by several additional days. Mailing the Aug. 6 election ballot will require one first class stamp.

Does the absentee ballot need to be post marked by Election Day? Or must it be received by then?

Your ballot must be received by the close of Election Day at 7 p.m.

More than one person in my household wants to vote absentee this year. Do I have to send each ballot separately or can I mail them all together?

All ballots must be sealed in their individual signed affidavit envelope. Your household may mail these yellow affidavit envelopes in the same outer envelope. Be sure to put the correct address on the outer envelope and additional postage will be required for mailing.

What security measures are in place to ensure my absentee ballot is properly counted?

Multiple security measures are in place to keep ballots secure and detect attempts of anyone but the legitimate voter to use the ballot. Ballots mailed to the P.O. box are retrieved by two election commission employees, one Democrat and one Republican, and are brought back to the election commission offices. Each ballot is noted as received in the computer system and placed in a secure ballot box, where it remains until counted on election day. Ballots that are sent by commercial carriers, like FedEx, are received at the election commission’s Nixon Drive location, at the front counter. Two employees (Democrat and Republican) are immediately called to retrieve the ballot. They enter it into the computer and place it in a secure ballot box. An audit is performed daily to match the number of ballots received to the number in the computer system.

In addition, the voter’s signature and Social Security Number on the ballot are matched to those on the voter’s voter registration form to prevent the improper use of another’s ballot.

How is my vote kept anonymous if I mail it in?

Your ballot will arrive at the election commission in a sealed yellow affidavit envelope that you have signed. Once received, the signature is compared with the signature on your ballot application form. Then the signature flap is removed from the envelope so that the sealed ballot remains anonymous.

Are absentee ballots only counted in close races?

NO! They are always counted! All absentee ballots with a signed affidavit received by close of Election Day are counted along with ballots cast during early voting periods.

What steps must I take to vote if I am in the military or a civilian living overseas?

Information and the forms to be completed are available at the Federal Voting Assistance Program website at You do not need to complete a new absentee ballot request for each election.

Will the expected increase in absentee voting delay the reporting of election results?

An expected surge in the use of absentee ballots could affect the speed of the results. Patience will be required. An accurate ballot count is more important than a faster count.

Where can I get more information on absentee voting in Shelby County?

Contact the Shelby County Election Commission at 901 222-6800 or 901 222-1200 or go to their website at, where the absentee ballot request form, the form to request placement on the permanent absentee voting list and accompanying form for the physician’s statement can be found. Information can also be obtained at the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website at

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