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Voting day rules

Although a lot of folks took advantage of early voting, tomorrow is the official election day, and there will be lots of campaign activity outside precinct polling places around town. Recalling past elections when there has been confusion and misinformation about the rules, thinking about the questions that will arise tomorrow, and looking ahead to my candidacy for re-election in November, I reviewed the Tennessee state law (part of Title 2, Elections) on behavior at polling places.

Section 2-7-103 (“Persons allowed in polling place”) states that “No person may be admitted to a polling place [during voting] except election officials, voters, persons properly assisting voters, the press, poll watchers appointed under [state law] and others bearing written authorization from the county election commission.” Section 2-1-104(a)(17) defines “Polling place” to mean “the room or rooms where voters apply to vote and mark and cast their ballots”. That says to me that it is OK for people other than voters to be in the building where voting is occurring, as long as they stay away from the rooms where folks are voting.

There are special rules for the police: “No police or other law enforcement officer may come nearer to the entrance to a polling place than ten feet (10′) or enter the polling place except at the request of the officer of elections or the county election commission or to make an arrest or to vote.” I guess that means that police can’t be used to intimidate voters — a good rule to have, but hopefully not something that would arise in Oak Ridge.

Those of us who have taken our kids into the voting booth with us should be relieved to learn that this is legal. The law says “No person may go into a voting machine or a voting booth while it is occupied by a voter except as expressly authorized by this title,” but it also says “a child under seventeen (17) years of age may accompany the child’s parent or legal guardian into the polling place” and “such child may also enter the voting machine or voting booth with such parent or guardian to observe the voting process.”

Section 2-7-103 also says that “candidates may be present [in a polling place] after the polls close.”

Section 2-7-111 (“Posting of sample ballots and instructions — Arrangement of polling place — Restrictions”) deals with electioneering outside the polling place. The relevant excerpts say:

(a) The officer of elections … shall measure off one hundred feet (100′) from the entrances to the building in which the election is to be held and place boundary signs at that distance.

(b) (1) Within the appropriate boundary as established in subsection (a), and the building in which the polling place is located, the display of campaign posters, signs or other campaign materials, distribution of campaign materials, and solicitation of votes for or against any person, political party, or position on a question are prohibited. No campaign posters, signs or other campaign literature may be displayed on or in any building in which a polling place is located.

(2) Solicitation or collection for any cause is prohibited. This does not include the normal activities that may occur at such polling place such as a church, school, grocery, etc.

(3) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person from wearing a button, cap, hat, pin, shirt, or other article of clothing outside the established boundary but on the property where the polling place is located.

Section 2-7-104 (“Poll watchers”) allows “each political party,” “any organization of citizens interested in a question on the ballot or interested in preserving the purity of elections and in guarding against abuse of the elective franchise,” primary candidates, and “independent candidates in general elections” to appoint poll watchers. Poll watchers must be at least 17 years old, they must be identified to the election day at least 2 days in advance. Parties and citizens organizations can have two poll watchers at a polling place at the same time, but candidates are limited to having only one poll watcher on duty in a polling place at any time.

Section 2-7-104(e) provides for poll watchers to observe the counting of absentee ballots, as long as they do not leave the room during the actual counting or have electronic communications devices in the room with them. (No spies, please!)

Section 2-7-130 (“Locking of machine — Canvass and proclamation of votes on voting machines”) states: “After the polls have closed … the judges shall then lock and seal the voting machines against voting. The judges shall sign a certificate on the tally sheets…. The judges shall then open the counter compartment in the presence of the watchers and all other persons who are present, giving full view of all the counter numbers. One (1) of the judges, under the scrutiny of a judge of a different political party, in the order of the offices as their titles are arranged on the machine, shall read aloud in distinct tones the designating number and letter, if any, on each counter for each candidate’s name and the result as shown by the counter numbers. The judge shall in the same manner announce the vote on each question.”

After an election, candidates can get detailed results, according to Section 2-8-116 “Right of candidate to receive certified copies of poll lists and tally sheets”: “Each candidate has the right to have delivered to the candidate by the state election commission or the county election commission certified copies of all poll lists and tally sheets used in the counties in which the candidate ran, upon demand and payment of the regular legal fees.”

Most that is relevant to candidates and their supporters, but issues arise for voters, too. Voters need to remember photo ID, due to Tennessee’s new laws, and Oak Ridge Today reports that people who vote at Jefferson Middle School will vote tomorrow in the front lobby instead of the gym, as the gym floor is being refinished.


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