Early voting in Knox County will get underway on Tuesday.
And the Knox County Commissioners have implemented some new clean-air rules to save people the annoyance of second-hand smoke.
The courthouse has largely been closed since the COVID-19 shutdown began back in March, but it has reopened for those wanting to make an appointment to conduct county business.
Simultaneously, the county also implemented some new security measures and are now funneling all guests to the courthouse through the Seventh Street entrance, where they are promptly met by a deputy and a metal detector.
But moving the entrance to that side, according to commission president Kellie Streeter, has resulted in more people smoking on that side as well.
Complaints about excessive smoking have been abundant, she said.
County clerk David Shelton is overseeing this year’s shortened early voting schedule — it begins Tuesday and lasts through noon on June 1 — and has erected a tent on the courthouse lawn in an effort to allow for better social distancing.
But given the increased number of smokers on the courthouse lawn in recent weeks, he went to the commissioners concerned about people coming to vote — specifically people coming to vote in the time of COVID-19 — who would have to walk through someone’s cloud of smoke to cast their ballot.
“Subjecting them to second-hand smoke, especially as we all deal with COVID, as they walk to vote just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “With us doing something outside this year, I think we need to address smoking.”
There were talks of prohibiting smoking on courthouse grounds for the entire week of early voting — but that ended up being too big a beast to tackle, at least for right now, the commissioners agreed.
In the end, they decided to approve a specific smoke-free resolution that prohibits smoking within 8 feet of the voting tent, as well as 8 feet from any polling location come Primary Election Day on June 2, a recommendation that aligns with those made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commissioners said.
The resolution is only good for this particular election, but the commissioners didn’t rule out coming back to the possibility of doing away with smoking on the courthouse grounds save but a designated area set up on the Eighth Street side for employees.
The issue, though, is that employees rarely use it.
“We know who our regular smokers are, so we just need to guide them to where they need to go so people can come and vote,” said commission president Kellie Streeter.
Shelton moved early voting out onto the courthouse lawn to keep people from piling into the relatively small election room on the second floor of the courthouse, thereby allowing for greater social distancing.
He's secured mobile hand-washing stations, face shields for poll workers, more than 20 gallons of hand sanitizer and even Q-tips for those who don't want to use their hands to touch the voting machines.