A Bartlett Post Office employee gathers absentee ballots. The Bartlett office is the only site in Shelby County accepting absentee ballots on Election Day. Photo by Shiraz Ahmed for MLK50

As voters hustled Tuesday afternoon to mail absentee ballots at the Bartlett Post Office, the county’s lone same-day delivery mailing site, agencies gave conflicting information about how late ballots could be mailed and still be counted. 

In an Oct. 28 press release, the Shelby County Election Commission relayed that the state of Tennessee set a 3 p.m. deadline for same-day delivery mailing of absentee ballots. Each county has a designated Election Day post office; in Shelby County, that’s the Bartlett Post Office, where the election commission receives its mail.

“Post offices in some parts of the state close at 3:30 p.m., which is why the statewide mandate requires the 3 p.m. cutoff for same-day delivery mailing,” the press release said.

But 15 minutes after the deadline, Lisa Nutt, 67, arrived at the Bartlett Post Office gasping for breath – she has asthma – and handed her ballot to a postal worker. 

Photo of Bartlett voter who submitted an absentee ballot.
Lisa Nutt filled out and delivered her absentee ballot after finding it in a neglected stack of mail at home. Photo by Shiraz Ahmed for MLK50

“I was rushing to drop it off,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking I was going to make it. Maybe I made it in time.” 

When asked by a reporter about the deadline, Bartlett postal workers said the office would accept ballots up to 30 minutes after the post office closed at 6 p.m. (Susan Wright, a USPS spokeswoman, said that the agency is abiding by the Secretary of State’s 3 p.m. announced deadline.) 

That came as news to the Election Commission. “If the post office is going to bring us the ballots, I would love that,” said spokeswoman Suzanne Thompson. “This is the first we heard the post office will be staying open later.”

Customers wait in line at the Bartlett Post Office on Election Day. The location is the only site in Shelby County accepting absentee ballots today.

At 5:45 p.m., the commission picked up ballots submitted at the Bartlett Post Office. It’s unclear what happens to any ballots dropped off the post office after 5:45 p.m. but before 6:30 p.m.

It would be up to the postal workers, Thompson said, to get those ballots to the Election Commission. For its part, a Bartlett postal worker said that an “arrangement” has been made to get those late ballots to the post office.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to info@mlk50.com.