Tennessee Elections

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A Nonprofit Response to Democracy’s Challenge
08/28/16 |
Publication Date: 
Sunday, August 28, 2016 - 01:45

[E]ven the most voter friendly states have very substantial gaps in voter participation between high- and low-income, young and old, and across the lines of race. That’s because voter-friendly policies may make voting “possible,” but they don’t really do anything to make voting “probable.” ...

[P]articipation gaps in large part reflect mobilization gaps—gaps between who is personally contacted about voting and who isn’t. ...

This is where nonprofits can make a big difference. ...

[O]nce contacted by nonprofit staff and volunteers about voting, these prospective voters turned out at higher rates than other registered voters across all demographic groupings. These increases were largest among those least likely to vote. We reach the right people, and when we engage them, we can make a big difference.

Texas withholds details of $2.5M voter ID education effort - Federal judge seals records at state's request
08/27/16 |
Publication Date: 
Saturday, August 27, 2016 - 03:45

More than half of that [$2.5 million] taxpayer money will go toward an advertising campaign, according to court filings. Yet state officials will not say which markets they intend to target with television and radio spots.

As part of its outreach effort, the state will send "digital tool kits" to an estimated 1,800 organizations across Texas to engage local communities on voter education. State officials will not identify those groups. ...

Key to understanding the state's strategy is where and how it plans to distribute voter education materials, including what parts of the state will be the focus, said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston who specializes in media and public opinion.

Without detailed information showing where the state plans to buy ads, he said, it becomes difficult to know whether regions with a higher density of people likely to be confused by the voter ID requirements are being targeted.

"Blanketing the state with ads about how easy it is to vote and how several new forms of ID can be used at the polls is not helpful," he said, adding that areas such as the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso will require large amounts of advertising. "The real value is the targeted selection of significant markets that are affected."

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Voting as a Student

As a student, you have a constitutional right to register and vote in the place you truly consider to be “home” — whether that’s your parents’ house, your apartment, or your dorm room. But before you make the important decision about where to vote, make sure you know the voting rules (and sometimes consequences) of registering to vote in that state.

More Info On Student Voting

Tennessee Election Info

Upcoming Elections in Your State

2016 General Election: Tuesday, November 8

  • Voter Registration Deadline: October 9
  • Early Voting Dates: October 19 - November 3

For more information, visit the Tennessee Secretary of State website.

Please note that the information in the sections below has not been updated, and refers to the 2015 general election.

Most polling locations are open from 7:00AM to 7:00PM, though some may vary depending on the time zone. Elections run in Eastern and Central time zone.  Contact your County Election Comission to find exact opening and closing times.

Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE or visit the Tennessee Department of State's Voter Registration Information Lookup webpage.


Already registered? Verify your voter registration status.

Registration Deadlines

Individuals must be registered 30 days prior to the election date.

How to Check if You Are Registered

Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE or visit the Tennessee Department of State's Voter Registration Information Lookup webpage.

How to Register


Tennessee does not offer online voter registration.  You may, however, download a voter registration form and learn more about registering to vote here.

In-Person or by Mail

You may register to vote in person at your county election commission.  You can locate your county election commission here.  You can also register in person at your county clerk’s office, public libraries, register of deeds offices, or during a transaction with the Tennessee Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Mental Health, Department of Safety, or Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

You can also download voter registration forms from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website.  Applicants can mail completed voter registration forms to their county election commission.  Contact information for county election commissions is located here.  Applications must be postmarked or hand-delivered by the registration deadline (30 days prior any specific election) to be eligible.  If you register by mail, you must vote in person the first time you vote after registering.

Registration Eligibility

In order to vote, Tennessee law requires that you must first register to vote at least 30 days prior to the election.  To be eligible to register in Tennessee you MUST:

  • be a United States citizen;
  • be at least eighteen years old on or before the next election;
  • be a resident of Tennessee; and
  • not have been convicted of a felony, or if you have, your full rights of citizenship must have been restored (or you must have received a pardon).

There is no length of residency requirement in Tennessee in order to register to vote.  You can register at any time.

Identification Required for Registration

If you are registering to vote in person, you must provide ID and a valid social security number at that time.

If you are registering to vote by mail, you must provide a valid social security number only.  However, for your first election after registering to vote by mail, you must present at the polling place (or early voting location) either: (a) a current photo ID with your name and photo; OR (b) an expired photo ID and one of the following documents that shows your name and address:

  • utility bill;
  • bank statement;
  • government check;
  • paycheck; or 
  • other government document. 

If You Want to Vote Early

Early voting is available to any voter, and a reason for needing to vote early is not required.  To vote early, you must appear in person at either the county election commission office or at a satellite voting location opened by the county election commission. 

For each election, early voting begins 20 days before the election and ends 5 days before the election.

A person may vote early on any Saturday that falls during this time frame.  For details regarding early voting locations and their operating hours, voters should contact their local county election commission office.

If You Want to Vote Absentee

You may only vote a mail-in absentee ballot if you qualify under Tennessee law to do so based on one of the criteria listed below:

  • You will be outside your county of registration during the early voting period and all day on election day;
  • Your  or your spouse is enrolled as a full-time student in an accredited college or university outside the county of registration;
  • Your licensed physician has filed a statement with the county election commission stating that, in the physician's judgment, you are medically unable to vote in person.  This statement must be filed not less than 7 days before the election and signed under the penalty of perjury;
  • You reside in a licensed facility providing relatively permanent domiciliary care, other than a penal institution, outside the voter's county of residence;
  • You will be unable to vote in person due to service as a juror for a federal or state court;
  • You are 60 years of age or older;
  • You have a physical disability and an inaccessible polling place;
  • You are hospitalized, ill, or physically disabled and because of such condition, cannot vote in person;
  • You are a caretaker of a person who is hospitalized, ill, or disabled;
  • You are a candidate for office in the election;
  • You serve as an election day official or as a member or employee of the election commission;
  • Your observance of a religious holiday prevents you from voting in person during the early voting period and on election day;
  • You possess a valid commercial driver license and certifies that he or she will be working outside the state or county of registration during the early voting period and all day on election day and have no specific out-of-county or out-of-state location to which mail may be sent or received during such time; or
  • You are a member of the military or an overseas citizen.

You may not vote by mail-in absentee ballot in your first election since registering to vote.

You may request a by-mail absentee ballot by mailing, faxing, or emailing this form or another document containing the following information to your local county election commission office:

  • Your name;
  • Address of your residence;
  • Your social security number;
  • Your date of birth;
  • Address to mail the ballot outside the county (this applies only when the reason for voting by mail involves that the voter will be outside of the county during early voting and on election day);
  • The name of the election you wish to participate in. If the election involves a primary, the political party in which the voter wishes to participate;
  • Reason you wish to vote absentee; and
  • Your signature (if submitted by email, you must scan the document with your signature and send it as an attachment).

You may have anyone you choose write your request for an absentee ballot or for an absentee voting by mail application.  However, this person is not permitted to make your signature or mark.

A request that contains this information will be processed and a ballot will be mailed to the voter.

Absentee applications must be received between 90 and 7 days prior to the election in which you wish to vote.

A voter must sign and return his or her absentee ballot in the enclosed secrecy envelope no later than the close of polls on the day of the election.  The secrecy envelope must be placed in the enclosed mailing envelope addressed to the county Election Commission.  The voter must sign the affidavit affirming that the voter is eligible to vote in the election.

Once the election commission issues an absentee by-mail ballot to a voter, the voter can only vote by mail.

If you requested an absentee ballot but have not yet received your ballot, contact your county election commission to check the status of your ballot.  You may also check online here.

Your ballot must be received by your county voter registration office by the close of polls on the day of the election.  Be sure to carefully follow the instructions on your absentee ballot. You must return the ballot  by mail; hand-delivery is not permitted. 

You must sign the oath on the envelope used to return the absentee ballot.  If you cannot sign the oath on your absentee ballot envelope because of a physical disability or illiteracy, the person providing you with assistance and one witness must sign their name and address.

Voting in Person after Requesting an Absentee Ballot

Tennessee does not permit you to vote in person after requesting an absentee ballot.  If you requested an absentee ballot, you can only vote by mail.  

Identification Requirements to Register to Vote

If you are registering to vote in person, you must provide ID and a valid social security number at that time.

If you are registering to vote by mail, you must provide a valid social security number only.  However, for your first election after registering to vote by mail, you must present at the polling place (or early voting location) either: (a) a current photo ID with your name and photo; OR (b) an expired photo ID and one of the following documents that shows your name and address:

  • utility bill;
  • bank statement; 
  • government check;
  • paycheck; or
  • other government document. 

Identification Requirements to Cast a Ballot

Tennessee law requires that all voters must present a government-issued photo ID containing the voter’s name and photograph at the polls, whether voting early or on Election Day. 

Acceptable forms of ID include (even if expired):

  • A Tennessee driver’s license with your photo;
  • A U.S. passport;
  • A photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security;
  • A photo ID issued by the federal government or Tennessee state government;
  • A U.S. military photo ID; or
  • Tennessee-issued handgun carry permit with your photo.

You may NOT use:

  • College student photo IDs;
  • Privately issued photo IDs (such as discount club cards or bank cards); or
  • Photo IDs issued by other states or by county or city governments (including library cards).

 You are exempt from the ID requirement if:

  • You are voting absentee by mail;
  • You are a resident of a licensed nursing home or assisted living center and you vote at the facility;
  • You are hospitalized;
  • You have a religious objection to being photographed; or
  • You are indigent and unable to obtain a photo ID without paying a fee.

If you do not provide an acceptable government-issued photo ID, you will be required to vote a provisional ballot.  In order to have that provisional ballot counted, the voter must return to the election commission’s office to show a valid photo ID within the 2 business days following the election.  Upon returning to the election commission office, the voter will sign an affidavit and a copy of the voter’s photo ID will be made to be reviewed by the counting board.

If you are a registered voter and do not have a government-issued photo ID, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security will provide you with a photo ID at no charge.  You may obtain a free photo ID to vote from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security at a driver service center.  In order to obtain this ID, you must provide:

    • proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate);
    • two proofs of Tennessee residency (such as a voter registration card, utility bill, vehicle registration/title or bank statemetn); and
    • if your name differs from that on your primary ID, proof of the changed name (such as certified marriage certificate, divorce decree, certified court order, etc.).

If you have a non-photo driver’s license and no other form of valid photo ID, you may visit a driver service center to have your photo added to your license for free upon request.  You must sign an affidavit stating that you do not have a valid government-issued photo ID for voting purposes. You can download the affidavit here.

You may use the “express service” line at the driver service center to obtain your photo ID to minimize wait times.

More information on this topic is available here.

Moving Within the Same County

The state voter registration application also serves as an address change request.  You may complete and sign the application and either mail or take the application to the local county election commission office.  The application must be signed and received no later than 5 days before the election in order to process the change.

If you do not choose to use the state voter registration application, you may also submit, in writing, any address change within the county to your local county election commission office.  The request must be signed and received no later than 5 days before the election in order to process the change.

If you have not updated your address and the voting period has begun, you are encouraged to vote during the early voting period.  The early voting period is from the 20th to the 5th day before the election.  You may go to any early voting location within your county to update your address and vote.

If your address information and your permanent voter registration record differ from your current address on Election Day, you must complete an affidavit before being allowed to vote.  You must vote either at your new polling location or at a central location designated by the county election commission office.

Moving to a Different County

If you move to a different county, it is not considered an update.  Your registration does not transfer to other counties in Tennessee.  You must register in your new county by submitting a voter registration application to your county election commission office.  You may either go in person to the local county election commission office or mail the application to their local county election commission office.

All registration deadlines apply to new applications, therefore, you must register no later than 30 days before the election. If you submit the application by mail, you must vote in person at the first election.  These rules apply even if you have been registered and voted in another county in Tennessee.

Registrations do not transfer from county to county and if the above requirements are not met you will not be allowed to vote in that election.

Military and overseas citizens can use the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), also known as Standard Form 76, to register to vote and to request an absentee ballot.  Visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program's (FVAP) Tennessee-specific FPCA page.

Military and overseas citizens can send and receive voting materials by mail and email.  If you wish to use the email option, you must indicate this on your FPCA. If you do not indicate any preference, you will receive your absentee ballot by mail.  Instructions for doing so are found on the FVAP's Tennessee-specific FPCA page.

Military and overseas citizens can use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) if they are concerned with receiving their printed ballot and returning it by the 7:00 p.m., Election Day deadline.  The FWAB is a blank ballot on which voters write in their choices.  The FWAB may also be used to register to vote and to apply for the absentee ballot, all in one step.  If the FWAB is being used to register to vote, it must be received by the voter registration deadline.  For specific instructions, visit the FVAP's Tennessee-specific FWAB page.

You may apply to vote absentee under the Tennessee military and overseas citizens law beginning on January 1 of the year of the election.  If your application is approved, you will receive absentee ballots for all regularly scheduled elections during that calendar year.

All persons convicted of a felony on or after May 18, 1981, except for some serious felonies such as murder, rape, treason and voter fraud, may apply to the Board of Probation and Parole for voting restoration upon completion of their sentence.  

In general, if you have been convicted of a felony and would like to have your voting rights restored, you must either:

  • Receive a pardon from the governor;
  • Serve the maximum sentence imposed for the crime;
  • The maximum sentence imposed for the crime must have expired;
  • You have been granted final release from incarceration; or
  • Any restitution or court costs ordered by the court as part of your sentence have been paid.

For more information on applying to have your voting rights restored, visit the Secretary of State's Election site page on voting rights restoration or call the state Division of Elections at (615) 741-7956.  You can also access the Restoration of Rights Form on the Secretary of State’s website.


Top Issues to Field **not yet updated since 2014**

For more information for voters with disabilities, visit the National Disability Rights Network’s voting resource center.

For more information for student voters, visit the Tennessee Student Voting Guide from the Brennan Center for Justice.

Information provided by Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights

2016 Election Information for your state