Absentee voting: CDC’s high-risk conditions for COVID-19 include obesity, smoking, blood pressure

As part of the state’s concessions on absentee balloting to get the Tennessee Supreme Court to throw out an court order allowing anyone fearful of contracting COVID-19 to vote by mail, officials agreed that anyone with a “special vulnerability” to the virus would be allowed to cast an absentee ballot.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

According to guidance released by Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Wednesday, people with an “underlying illness, physical disability, or other health condition and who cannot appear at the polling place on Election Day” can obtain an absentee ballot. That also goes for people who care for someone who does.

The press release urges voters to “consult trusted guidance from medical experts and use common sense in determining whether they have a special vulnerability.” It goes on to suggest looking up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information.

According to the CDC website linked by Hargett’s office, the list of people with increase risk of severe illness from COVID-19 includes:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

The CDC says other conditions that might leave people at an increased risk are:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Smoking
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus

The release from the Secretary of State’s office follows.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Secretary of State Tre Hargett is encouraging voters to prepare now to vote in the presidential election on Nov. 3. Tennesseans should make sure their voter registration is up-to-date and make decisions about whether they will vote in-person or absentee by-mail if eligible.
“We want every eligible Tennessean to be ready to vote in the November election,” said Secretary Hargett. “Whether voting in-person or by-mail we want your vote to count.”
Tennessee’s generous early voting period starts Oct. 14 and lasts until Oct. 29.
Voters who choose to vote in-person during early voting or on Election Day will see the same precautions used during the August election. Voters should expect to see signs with further safety instructions at their polling locations. Poll officials will be supplied with gowns, face shields, gloves and other PPE. All poll officials will be wearing face coverings and are trained in social distancing protocols. Voters will experience precautions taken such as single-use pens, disposable stylus to select their candidate and sanitizer at the polling location.
For voters, voting absentee by-mail county election commissions will start mailing out ballots in September. Election officials are currently taking steps to finalize the November ballot, including certifying August election results as well as waiting on both major parties to officially confirm their presidential nominees. In Tennessee, voters must have a legal reason listed in the law to be eligible to vote absentee by-mail. Some of the most common legal reasons are voters who are 60 or older and voters who will be out of their counties during the election. Eligible voters who have a special vulnerability to COVID-19 due to an underlying illness, physical disability, or other health condition and who cannot appear at the polling place on Election Day due to this condition may vote by absentee ballot under the “illness or physical disability” reason. Likewise, eligible voters who are caretakers to individuals with a special vulnerability may vote by absentee ballot under the “caretaker” reason. Voters should consult trusted guidance from medical experts and use common sense in determining whether they have a special vulnerability. The CDC provides a website with helpful information that voters may wish to consult. “If you make your request now to vote absentee by-mail, counties will be prepared to send you the ballot as soon as it is available,” said Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins. “Once you receive your ballot, vote it and mail it back in as soon as possible so it is ready to be counted on Election Day.” Absentee by-mail ballots must be returned by-mail. This includes the U.S. Postal Service and services like FedEx and UPS. Each state is different when it comes to election law. Tennessee law does not permit voters to turn in their ballots in-person or for the use of drop boxes.

15 Responses to Absentee voting: CDC’s high-risk conditions for COVID-19 include obesity, smoking, blood pressure

  • Avatar
    Beatrice Shaw says:

    Oh Good. I can get an absentee ballot!

  • Avatar
    steve cates says:

    GREAT news!! That’s unusual in TN!

  • Avatar
    Leeann C says:

    Good grief. I do want to know if those that fear voting in person been to Walmart or a grocer in the last 4 months. Even once.

    • Avatar
      MARLE says:

      I voted in person in the Aug primary. The woman who took my registration was wearing a mask riding well below her nostrils. I stood considerably less than 6 ft away while she verified every piece of information that, as I told her, had not changed since I came to TN 12 years ago. If she HAD been carrying Covid I would have been much more exposed to it than during any aisle-pass-by or check out in a grocery store.

      • Avatar
        MARLE says:

        And just to add, I spent more time in a less-than-social-distanced way with her than I typically spend when I go to the gym for a 45 minute work out 6 days per week.

      • Avatar
        LeeAnn C says:

        Are you OK? Did you contract COVID?

        • Avatar
          MARLE says:

          I thought the point you were making LeeAnn was that it was LESS of a problem than going to the grocery.

          People drive drunk and don’t get killed but that doesn’t make drunk driving Prudent or advisable. If you got home from the bar safely that is no endorsement for drunk driving.

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            MARLE says:

            Just because I, personally, didn’t get Covid during my August primary vote experience doesn’t make voting in person the prudent thing for many Americans. In 2018 when 35 Million Americans got the annual flu, I didn’t get it. I also have never taken a flu vaccine. I haven’t had the flu for over a decade or a cold in years. So maybe I am not the right test case.

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            Eddie White says:

            The point LeeAnn was making is that the same people who don’t want to go to the polls to vote are the very same people who will go to Wal-Matt or the grocery store. It’s hypocritical.

          • Avatar
            MARLE says:

            And I agree that WAS her point. But I spent a lot of time, in close proximity to a poll worker who for all practical purposes was NOT wearing a mask. In the grocery I, and others, breeze by others for only Seconds in the aisle and very briefly (or not at all with self-checkout) at checkout. So…….I get her point. From my experience going to the Poll to vote in person was a much higher Exposure. So I May choose to go to Walmart and not face nearly the potential exposure as I may face at the polls. AND the voting space was Very Crowded as I waited, after registration, to get to a machine.

          • Avatar
            MARLE says:

            I may choose to go to Walmart because I know my risk is small and manageable. If I see too many people I can leave without my can of baked beans. No problem. But if I have waited to vote in-person, and I discover my polling place poses MORE risk than my trip to Walmart, my vote is forfeited if I leave to avoid the risk.

            My experience in any grocery or my gym has been for the past 5 months Less risky than my one trip to the polls. I am assessing Exposure.

          • Avatar
            Steve says:

            Can I contact you further about this?

    • Avatar
      Joe says:

      It really doesn’t matter if folks went to Walmart or not. They can still vote absentee per the law. It’s really not your business what others do.

    • Avatar
      Cannoneer2 says:

      Tre Hargett was called to testify about absentee voting before the U.S. Senate. He did it remotely. Why? I’m sure that he has been out and about, is it too much bother for the highest paid Secretary of State in the nation to SHOW UP IN PERSON to testify?

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    Taxpayer #314 says:

    Every person that is registered to vote should be able to choose how you want to vote, either in person or by mail. One person, one vote no matter how you cast that ballot. Why would anyone question that simple truth?

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