Why is it so hard to vote in Tennessee?

A presidential election during a global pandemic is just one more challenging circumstance for Americans to navigate in 2020. As a result, several states have expanded absentee voting in the past few months to allow people who are concerned about contracting COVID-19 to vote-by-mail instead of at the polls. However, Tennessee is one of six states that still requires an excuse in order to cast a ballot by mail.

In August, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the state did not have to expand absentee voting to anyone concerned about contracting COVID, and would only allow those at higher risk of contracting the virus to vote by mail. This was viewed by many as a move to suppress voters ahead of the election.

In addition, a new law passed this summer that criminalizes protestors, in turn stripping them of their right to vote. Protesters, i.e. those demonstrating against racial injustice, who camp out on state property, can now face felony charges. Convicted felons are automatically stripped of their voting rights in Tennessee. Civil rights groups are outraged as this is the second decision by the state to repress voting rights.  

With Election Day next week, the most important thing you can do is make a plan to vote. Here’s what you need to know. 

How to Vote in-person in Tennessee:

  1. All voter information can be found in the GoVoteTN App
  2. Early voting extends until Thursday, October 29 - visit the app for voting locations, hours of operation, and view your sample ballot.
  3. Voters need to bring valid photo ID to the polls. A Tennessee driver license or photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Tennessee state government, or the federal government is acceptable even if expired. College student IDs and IDs issued by a local library are not permitted.

Vote Absentee by mail:

  1. There are strict qualifications about voting by absentee ballot. Check here to see if you or someone you know is eligible. 
  2. The deadline to request an absentee by-mail ballot is Tuesday, Oct. 27. 
  3. All absentee by-mail ballots must be received in the mail by your local county election commission by the close of polls on Election Day, Nov. 3, to be counted. Polls in Tennessee close at 8 p.m. EST / 7 p.m. CST. *Remember: if you’re in line when the polls close, you are still allowed to cast your ballot so do not leave!

In-person COVID Precautions

  • Maintain social distance of at least 6-feet between yourself and others
  • Screen yourself for any new symptoms of COVID-19
  • Bring your own pen and hand sanitizer
  • Disinfect your hands upon entering and leaving the polling station
  • Wear a face mask


Just because you live in a state where it’s more difficult to vote, shouldn’t keep you from showing up. This is a very important and exciting time to get involved in our political process and let your voice be heard. Make a plan to vote with friends and enjoy the process! Be sure to read our Election Day Guide for ideas of what to bring and how to prepare.


 Let’s #IGNITEthevote together!