The Hamilton County Election Commission building was packed with concerned citizens of every kind on Wednesday morning. Their concerns ranged from the addition (and non-addition) of voting sites, the process of tracking mail-in ballots, redistricting, and more.
“We wanted to make sure the data supported (the decisions regarding early-polling places),” a commissioner said. “After each November election, our office can present new data so you can take a look and see if it’s justified to add new voting sites.”
Chairman Mike Walden said this “takes the politics” out of determining early voting locations.
Earlier, the Commission approved a new voting site in Snow Hill and another in Soddy Daisy. The Election Commission discussed a third voting site in the Lookout Valley area.
“Based on the information we saw from the comptroller and turnout data from the 2020 presidential election, we could see that the precincts in that area were already taking advantage of early voting,” assistant administrator Nate Foster said. “Their election day turnout was actually below average, so their lines were not highly-congested.”
Commissioners said that in 2020, 95 percent of mail-in ballots were returned, and assuaged concerns of fraudulent ballots by saying that there is a special watermark on each ballot that cannot be copied or altered.
“What we do for any absentee mail-in ballot is include a watermark on that ballot, placed there by our office,” assistant administrator Foster said. “The counting board must verify the watermark is on the ballot before they count the votes for it.”
He said the county Election Commission also tracks each absentee ballot through the post office. He said, “We’ll see step-by step” when the bar code is scanned in by the Postal Service and sent to a mailbox. Mr. Foster said the county is not required to do this by law, but that it provides an answer for voters who want to know where their ballot is.
The Election Commission will also send out information through the mail to every registered Hamilton County voter once the legislature has finished redistricting. Some citizens will be in different districts and precincts, and so the Commission will use mail, social media, and more to inform people of any changes.
“The latest timeline I’ve heard from the legislature is that they’ll get done with their process by the middle of February,” Mr. Foster said. “When we get that data, we’re going to get that implemented into our database, make any adjustments, and get those notices out by mid-March.”