Early voting for the August 2020 elections, featuring federal and state primary races as well as the Knox County general elections and Farragut municipal elections, is underway with voters casting their ballots using the recently approved paper ballot system for the very first time.

The new system, which was approved in December of last year, will allow voters to fill out their ballot on a physical paper form by hand before scanning it into a ballot scanner.

The paper ballot system comes with a wide range of advantages and benefits when compared to the previous electronic voting system. One major benefit is the security and reliability associated with paper ballots.

In addition to eliminating the possibility of voting machines malfunctioning, paper ballots create a paper trail after each ballot is cast that can be used to verify results in the case of recounts or discrepancies. Paper ballots also allow voters the chance to more easily review and correct their votes before officially submitting them.

One major advantage of the new paper ballot system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is eliminating the shared usage of electronic voting machines, a process that would have undoubtedly created apprehension in the mind of voters worried about contracting the virus and required extra effort as workers would need to sanitize the machines after each ballot is cast.

Chris Davis, Knox County administrator of elections, elaborated on the advantages of using an almost entirely contact-free voting system, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

“The main advantage of having a paper system at this point in time is that the voter does not have to touch a machine as we did previously,” Davis said. “All the voter comes in contact with is a blue or black ink pen, his or her own photo ID, an application for ballot (piece of paper) and a paper ballot. Very clean and almost contact-free process. In this era of COVID-19, the nearly contact-free process is a big advantage over having to touch a machine.”

As to what voters can expect when they go to cast their ballots, the process will be fairly similar procedurally to before with a few added changes aimed at protecting voters’ health and wellbeing.

Abbey Harris, deputy communications director at the Knox County Office of Communications, explained what voters can expect when they arrive at their voting precincts.

“Voters will arrive at their voting centers as normal, they will queue up in line (physically distanced) and then present their photo ID when they get to the poll operator desk. They will be given a paper ballot based on their district and voting party,” Harris said. “They will then move to a voting area (basically a table with a trifold board around it) and fill their ballot out with a blue or black ink pen. They can borrow one that has been sanitized by polling staff or they can bring their own. Once they complete their ballot, they will take it over to a scanner that will read it and drop it into the ballot box.”

From there, Davis explained that voters will be able to review and verify what has been scanned in, and if everything checks out the paper ballot will be securely submitted and stored.

“The paper ballot will be stored in a locked and sealed ballot bag,” Davis said. “Very simple and relatively quick process.”

Early voting in Knox County continues through August 1, and voters are encouraged to utilize this time to cast their votes to avoid long waiting lines on the August 6 Election Day.

Voters can cast their ballots at any early voting site. More information on voting site locations and hours is available here

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