Murfreesboro FAQ: Can the November Election be postponed?

Apr 13, 2020 at 09:02 am by Michelle Willard

Register to Vote

On April 6, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers was blocked by the state's Supreme Court from postponing its Presidential Primary set for Aril 7 over concerns about further spreading COVID-19 at polling places.

This led to questions about upcoming elections in Tennessee. So the Voice spoke with Rutherford County Elections Administrator Alan Farley about what precautions the Election Commission is making to ensure safe elections in August and November, given a worst case scenario.

If there is anything you'd like to know, put it in the comments, and we will follow up.


People have been concerned about how the pandemic might impact the November Federal Election. Given the worst case scenario, could it be postponed? If yes, who is responsible for making that decision? If not why?

Farley: For November, the U.S. Constitution does not speak of a process, and I am not aware of any federal statute that would give authority to any person or group to move a federal election. The 20th Amendment gives some authority to Congress if no POTUS is elected. Constitution states the President’s term ends on Jan. 20.

For August, the August election is a state Constitutional election. For that reason, it cannot be postponed. We will proceed accordingly to ensure everyone’s safety. We are anticipating and planning on an increase in absentee ballots.

Just to clarify: So as far as you know, Congress might be the only ones who could postpone the federal election? And they might not even have that authority?

Farley: I don’t think it is clear that Congress can. They may try to pass legislation but I don’t think they can extend their term in office and Constitution clearly says POTUS term ends Jan. 20.

I understand about the concern for November, but the August Local Elections and State and Federal Primaries are much closer and more likely to be impacted by the pandemic. How are you preparing for the August election if, God forbid, we need/want an alternative to voting in a public place?

Farley: The good news at this point is that we are heading in the right direction. Things are improving! If we continue to follow the recommended precautions, I think we will be in good shape come Aug. 6 and Nov. 3. My goal is to provide a safe environment for our tremendous poll workers and voters in our county.

Rutherford County has an advantage with our vote center concept. Vote Centers provide the voter and the Election Commission with some flexibility. I have been working over the past couple of weeks to develop a plan to present to the Election Commissioners that will allow us to conduct the election while addressing the concerns of the pandemic. We will be working within our existing election laws. Our commission, nor office, does not make policy or pass legislation. Our attention will be spent on what we have control over.

Are you making plans in case we have an influx of absentee votes?

Farley: This has been my focus for the past couple of weeks. I am looking at how we can maximize our absentee process from the request phase to fulfilling the request to receiving the voted ballot. Under current Tennessee election law, there are numerous reasons a voter can request an absentee ballot. Currently, under Tennessee law, there are 14 legal reasons a registered voter can obtain an absentee ballot. One of the items includes the most targeted age groups of COVID-19, voters 60 years of age and older. Voters that are 60 years or older can request an absentee ballot with no other explanation. I do expect a large increase with over 60 voters.

To vote by mail, a registered voter must fall under one of the following categories:

  1. The voter will be outside the county of registration during the early voting period and all day on election day;

  2. The voter or the voter’s spouse is enrolled as a full-time student in an accredited college or university outside the county of registration;

  3. The voter’s licensed physician has filed a statement with the county Election Commission stating that, in the physician's judgment, the voter is medically unable to vote in person. The statement must be filed not less than seven (7) days before the election and signed under the penalty of perjury;

  4. The voter resides in a licensed facility providing relatively permanent domiciliary care, other than a penal institution, outside the voter's county of residence;

  5. The voter will be unable to vote in person due to service as a juror for a federal or state court;

  6. The voter is sixty (60) years of age or older;

  7. The voter has a physical disability and an inaccessible polling place;

  8. The voter is hospitalized, ill, or physically disabled and because of such condition, cannot vote in person;

  9. The voter is a caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill, or disabled;

  10. The voter is a candidate for office in the election;

  11. The voter serves as an election day official or as a member or employee of the Election Commission;

  12. The voter’s observance of a religious holiday prevents him or her from voting in person during the early voting period and on election day;

  13. The voter or the voter’s spouse possesses a valid commercial drivers license (CDL) or the voter possesses a valid Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card and certifies that he or she will be working outside the state or county of registration during the open hours of early voting and Election Day, and has no specific out-of-county or out-of-state address to which mail may be sent or received during such time.

  14. The voter is a member of the military or is an overseas citizen

How does the absentee ballot system work? How does one request a ballot?

Farley: If a voter meets one of the nine criteria as set by law, the voter can go to our website print and complete a request the absentee request form. After completing the request, the voter can submit by email at, by fax at 615-217- 7144 or by U.S. Mail. The request will be reviewed, verified, accepted or rejected. If accepted, a ballot will be mailed with instructions to follow. The ballot must be mailed back to our office by the close of polls on Election Day to be counted.

If a request is denied, the voter will be notified and will then be required to vote early or appear on Election Day.

Can you explain the difference between an absentee ballot and a provisional ballot?

Farley: An absentee ballot is a means to vote for a registered voter who has appeared in person to register or appeared in person to vote in a prior election. It is also a voter that may have a medical condition that has difficulty in accessing a polling place and their doctor has provided documentation placing them on a permanent absentee list. The time period to request an absentee ballot starts 90 days prior to the election and closes seven days before the election. It is recommended to submit an absentee request as early as possible because this process involves the United States Postal Service. Mail delivery tends to fluctuate by a day or two.

A provisional ballot is when a person states they have attempted to register, for example, at the Tennessee Department of Safety but the Election Commission does not have any record of it. This allows the voter in question to cast their vote and then allows the Election Commission to research with the Tennessee Department of Safety or other state agencies that register voters but failed to forward the written documentation. If it is determined the person did attempt to register than that vote is counted. If the documentation clearly shows the person did not attempt to register, the ballot will not be counted but will become registered for future elections as that person completed a registration form while filling out provisional ballot.

It also includes a voter that may not have a state or federal photo ID with them at the time they vote. They will have two business days after the election to go to the Election Commission to show their photo ID. Once that is done, the ballot will be counted.

Do you have anything else that you'd like to add?

Farley: These are unprecedented times that requires each of us to be patient. We will be following all CDC guidelines that are in place at that time. We will have sanitizer and use measures to keep all surfaces such as voting machines, pens and tables germ free.

A large number of absentee ballots could cause the results to be delayed for a few days. We are putting forth the planning to have everything run as smoothly as normal.


Sections: Other News