• Under Tennessee law, there are two forms of absentee voting. The best-known, perhaps, is early voting in person. Any registered voter may cast a ballot during this period. The other form is absentee voting my mail. Not everyone is eligible to absentee vote by mail, but more than a dozen reasons allow a voter to cast a ballot in this manner. The simplest reason: anyone age 60 and over is allowed to absentee vote by mail. But you must request that a ballot be mailed to you — and once you fill it in, you must mail it back in time for it to reach the Election Commission office no later than Election Day. The cutoff to request an absentee by mail ballot for the May 1 party primaries is April 24.
• During in-person early voting, registered county voters may cast a ballot at any of the three early voting locations (Blountville, Kingsport and Bristol) no matter where they live. But on Election Day, you must go to your assigned precinct to vote. You can look up your voting precinct online.
• Tennessee is an “open primary” state. That means a voter can choose which party primary they want to vote in (but you can’t vote in both). No one in Tennessee is registered by party affiliation. In the current county election cycle, voters will have many more choices if they cast a ballot in the Republican primary. There are 70 candidates on the Republican primary ballot seeking the party’s nomination to run in 21 races countywide. Because you will see only your single county commission race when you go into the voting booth, if you vote in the Republican primary you will see choices in 11 races. There are five candidates on the Democratic primary ballot seeking the party’s nomination to run in four of the 21 races countywide. Because you will see only your single county commissioner district, if you vote in the Democratic primary, you will see choices in two races.
• There are several candidates running as independents for some high-profile offices, including county mayor and sheriff. If you’re looking for them, you won’t find them on the May 1 ballot. They’ve already secured a spot on the August county general election ballot by meeting a qualifying deadline in February.
• Some of the major races in county government will in fact be decided in the Republican primary on May 1 because there isn’t a challenger, either Democratic or independent, running for a place on the August ballot. Races that will be decided in the Republican primary include: county trustee, circuit court clerk; commissioner of highways; county commission District 3; county commission District 9; and county commission District 10. No Democratic or independent candidates filed for those races, so the Republican primary winners will be unopposed and de facto winners of the August general election three months before it happens.
• In Sullivan County, early voting has become increasingly popular over the years: In the May 2014 party primaries, nearly 53.5 percent of the total ballots cast were cast during early/absentee voting; in the county general election in August of that year, the number rose to nearly 58 percent; and in the 2016 presidential election, nearly 71.09 percent of ballots were cast early.
For more information, including links to look up your registration status, commission district, and guidelines for absentee voting by mail, visit the Sullivan County Election Commission’s website at www.scelect.org.