Vote by mail: It’s not that simple

Frank CagleFrank Talk

There are 80,000 voters in Knox County who are over 60 and thus eligible to vote absentee. The election commission has received five times the usual number of requests for an absentee ballot. And that was before a Nashville chancellor ruled that anybody who wants an absentee ballot should get one.


Does a Nashville judge have the ability to dictate how Knox County conducts an election? That will be decided at some point. But in the meantime, put yourself in the position of making decisions about how to conduct an election.

Frank Cagle

Cliff Rodgers, who has retired as election administrator, had the presence of mind to order two additional scanners that can be used to read absentee ballots. That brings the county total to three. Absentee ballots cannot be opened until election day and are counted during day so that totals are normally available when polls close. In a presidential election year that usually means about 6,000 absentee votes.

Should the election commission rent a building somewhere, install the scanners, and set up an operation to handle a huge influx of ballots? What about the chain of custody with ballots arriving in the mail and then stored? Should some polling places be closed to devote those resources to the mail-in vote count?

Rodgers says they have consulted with officials in Washington state that went to all mail-in ballots. He said it usually takes about five years to make the transition. You have to see how elections proceed to gauge where to put resources until the transition is complete. I have no problem with an orderly transition to mail-in voting, but we cannot threaten the integrity of our elections by haste.

New elections administrator Chris Davis will have his baptism by fire with the next two elections, but I think things will go fairly smoothly in Knox County. But there are some challenges involved. It’s not as simple as some people seem to think. A larger turnout for early voting will take some pressure off.

I don’t think turn out for the August primary will be that heavy and the election commissions across the state can see how things are working. The real push will come in November with Donald Trump and Joe Biden on the ballot. In August, we have a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in case you have forgotten. And most people have. I think their names are Bill Hagerty versus Manny Sethi.

In Knox County there are three competitive state House races in the August primary. The seat vacated by the retiring Martin Daniel has former mayoral candidate Eddie Mannis opposed by Gina Oster in the “hills” of West Knoxville – West, Deane and Rocky. Patti Bounds and Michele Carringer are seeking the GOP nomination to replace the retiring House member Bill Dunn in Powell. On the Democratic primary ballot Sam McKenzie and Matthew Park are opposing incumbent House member Rick Staples. Primary winners will have challengers in November. But given the distractions of the coronavirus and protests against police brutality it’s hard to judge how many people are into local elections.

I have a horror of what could happen in November. Remember Bush v. Gore, hanging chads, recounts, days and days after the election before we knew who the next president would be? It was a nightmare. If mail-in ballots in November take four or five days to be counted in half the states can you imagine how much mischief could ensue? Do you think Trump will stay off twitter? The integrity of the election results could be attacked; twitter and other social media could undermine faith in our democracy. There may be hundreds of rumors to deal with.

There hasn’t been a more important election in my lifetime. We can only hope that the rest of the states do not conduct this election with the skill and competence of Florida.

Soldiers on the corner: After spending a year in Vietnam I took a 30-day leave and spent my entire savings on a grand tour of Europe. That included a trip to Spain and a bullfight in Madrid. At that time Fascist Dictator Francisco Franco was very much alive and I found the city’s atmosphere oppressive. Seemingly on every street corner were groups of soldiers in green top coats with AK-47s slung over their shoulders.

President Trump and senate candidate Bill Hagerty would like to duplicate that situation in America. They propose moving active military units into our cities to patrol the sidewalks.

Conservatives have always thought we were protected from military takeovers by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibits the U.S. military from being used to enforce civilian law and against American citizens. But the act provides an exception for armed insurrection. Hagerty proposed that Trump use the Insurrection Act of 1807 to order troops into our cities to restore order.

Rioting and looting have to be stopped and that’s why we have police and the National Guard under the control of each state’s governor. It is not up to the White House to prosecute theft and vandalism. The 101st Airborne isn’t trained in crowd control. Its members are trained to kill people.

But I don’t see anyone involved in an insurrection, attempting to overthrow the U.S. government or even a state capitol. I do wish peaceful protesters would move demonstrations to the day time and an early curfew might enable police to better separate peaceful protesters from looters.

But it’s a city and state problem.

Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.

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