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First batch of requested absentee ballots in Shelby County sorted, driven to post office

Around 5,000 such ballots went out Wednesday, tens of thousands additional requests expected in coming weeks.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — A historic election in the middle of a pandemic took shape Wednesday in Shelby County, as the first wave of requested absentee ballots were sorted and sent to the post office. 

"We are very pleased to be able to get them out," Shelby County Elections Administrator Linda Phillips said.

A team spent Wednesday morning inside the Shelby County Election Operations Center, where they labeled, folded and stacked requested absentee ballots, precinct by precinct. 

"We work seven days a week, two shifts," Phillips said.

Phillips said the requested absentee ballots go through different levels of verification before being sent to the post office.

A requested is recorded and scanned first into the system, ballot labels are created, the address is verified and scanned again to make sure the proper ballot matches the specific address of the voter.

"We have some precincts with eight different ballot styles because of how the legislative lines were drawn," Phillips said.

The elections administrator said more than 20,000 Shelby County voters already requested an absentee ballot, already surpassing the nearly 8,000 requested in 2016. 

She's expecting anywhere from 45,000 to 100,000 requests by the deadline in less than three weeks.

"Although the legal deadline is October 27th, we really strongly recommend that voters ask for them no later than October the 20th," Phillips said.

That's so voters can get another ballot mailed in time should there be any errors.

Phillips reminded absentee voters follow the instructions closely and carefully.

"The most common problem is that people have not signed the affidavit, the other common problem is that the signatures don't match," Phillips said.

Once the ballots are mailed back, they'll be recorded and placed in double locked ballot bins with security cameras.

"Each party has the keys to one set of locks, so they can't be opened unless both election commissioners, one Democrat, one Republican, are there," Phillips said.

On top of sorting through absentee ballots, staff is also preparing for the start of early voting, one week from today.

To handle the demand, 180 additional workers were hired to assist in both processes.


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