The November 2020 election saw a record number of people vote in Tennessee. More than 3 million people voted in the state, a turnout of 68.6% of registered voters.
Many of those voters took advantage of the state’s early voting period or absentee voting. The state allowed individuals at risk of complications from COVID-19 to apply for an absentee ballot for the November election. And, special voting sites were set up for individuals who had COVID-19 on election day and had not voted early or absentee.
But other states still saw more participation in this latest round of our democratic republic. More than 75% of voters in Minnesota took to the polls, followed by Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado and Wisconsin, where turnout ranged from 72-74%.
Those numbers only consider the number of registered voters. When you look at the voting-eligible population, Tennessee only had 59.8% of eligible voters participate. Hawaii, Arkansas and Oklahoma were the only states with lower participation when you look at the voting-eligible population.
The Cost of Voting Index, originally published in 2018 and updated in 2020, ranked the state 46th out of 50 in ease of voting. The only states faring worse were Mississippi, Missouri, Georgia and Texas.
However, voters tend to turn out in higher numbers during a national election than for local or state elections, despite how important those races are to our government.
Why should we care?
A foundation of our nation is that the people make decisions through their elected representatives. If people do not participate in choosing those representatives, their voice may not be heard in the halls of government.
Lawmakers filed more than 60 bills related to voting in Tennessee in this session of the Tennessee General Assembly. One, filed by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, would have eliminated the popular early voting period and outlawed voting machines, among other things. The bill was withdrawn, but many other proposals are remaining.
Some would expand the use of convenience voting centers instead of requiring voters to go to their assigned precinct. Another would streamline the process for individuals with a felony conviction to have their voting rights restored.
Other bills would seek to increase the number of registered voters, with proposals ranging from requiring voter registration at high schools each fall and spring to automatic voter registration or same-day registration.
Another bill would require reaching out to voters who may be purged to inform them of how to update their information.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in a recent interview with the Tennessean that the record turnout the state saw was not enough.
“I want more and more people to be able to participate in elections … If we could hit record turnouts during this year, we ought to be able to try and hit record turnouts every time and convince people why it’s important to vote,” Hargett said.
Tennessee has done a lot to make it easier to register to vote, including online voter registration. But we’re still missing a lot of potential voters. Efforts to expand registration access throughout our state should be considered by the General Assembly.