Early voting begins Friday

Loudon County Election Commission representative Beverly Sweeney works on one of the new machines Thursday morning at the county office building. 

Early voting begins Friday for the August state and federal and county general election.

Loudon County Election Commission members were working Thursday to program 76 new voting machines that cost about $400,000. The expense was partially covered by $180,000 in federal aid, Susan Harrison, county election administrator, said.

“This one has a paper trail,” she said. “It will actually print out your selections and then you may review your selections. If you’re happy, then you will deposit your ballot into the scanner. If you’re not happy, you will have the privilege of getting a new ballot card and starting over. If you make a mistake, you can go back and start over. ... They actually see with their own eyes what it prints out that they voted for.”

A video of how to use the machine can be found at www.loudoncounty votes.com.

Leo Bradshaw, election commission chairman, believes the new machines are a big improvement.

“They’re easier to use, they’re simple, they’re touch screen,” he said. “... The old machines you had to turn a wheel to your slot and then go through the whole process and go and turn it again, go to the next two. This here it’s just touch screen. I mean it’s all simple.”

Early voting is through Aug. 1. Locations include the Loudon County office building, Roane State Community College in Lenoir City and the Christian Life Center of the Community Church at Tellico Village.

Harrison said a safety plan has been “pretty much” finalized for early voting in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You’ll need to stand 6 feet apart,” Harrison said. “You’ll need to practice social distancing. We will be giving out hand sanitizer, gloves and your own personal ink pen. We ask that you respect the person in front and behind you and keep your 6-foot distance. There is still time to request absentee ballot if you have concerns about being in public. They just need to call our office and we’ll get an application in the mail and then when we get the application back we’ll get them a ballot in the mail.”

Hopes are to provide as safe an environment as possible, Harrison said.

“Of course, now they’re saying it’s really not about touch, it’s more airborne, but still we have it and that’s just an extra precaution,” she said. “We will have sneeze guards between the voter and the registrars when they’re handling their driver’s license. Of course, these (voting machines) have a barrier all the way around.”

Bradshaw said masks are encouraged but not required.

As of Thursday, the election commission has received more than 1,300 absentee ballot requests, Harrison said.

“This election four years ago we voted 115 people absentee ballot and we’ve already had requests for over 1,300 and I already have right at 500 back. It’s a lot of absentees,” she said. “... I would suggest early voting because there will be more machines at the early voting locations where it will move quicker. Some of the polling locations may not have as many machines. Each early voting location will have eight machines, which is a lot of machines.”

Early voting should be “safe, secure, easy” and simple to use, Bradshaw said.

“It’s a win-win-win system,” he said. “You’ve got all the safe guards, everything is coated. I mean there’s no way — there’s nothing on internet. The machines are self-contained. You don’t have anything that can, anyway that can hack into it. It’s very secure.”

Help for the election is still needed. Workers have left for various reasons, Harrison said. For more information, call the election commission at 865-458-2560.

“Anybody that’s still interested in working, please give us a call because we have had some people dropping out the last few days,” she said.