First-time voter Katey Alegre knows her vote for President Barack Obama is probably outnumbered in Tennessee -- but she still drove 2 1/2 hours Wednesday to fill out an early voting ballot in Chattanooga.
"I feel like I've fulfilled my duty," said the 19-year-old Chattanooga native, now a college student in Nashville. "I believe every vote makes a difference. Maybe someday this state could be blue. Who knows?"
Early voting ends today in Tennessee and finishes Friday in Georgia. Around noon Wednesday, the line of last-minute early voters stretched out the door at the Hamilton County Election Commission off Amnicola Highway.
Administrator of Elections Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said more than 57,000 people already have voted.
"The turnout has been excellent," she said. "We're very pleased. There's a long line out there now, and we'll have a long line out there tomorrow."
Hamilton County recorded 68,000 early votes during the 2008 presidential election, and Mullis-Morgan thinks the county could reach that mark again by the time polling locations close at 8 p.m. She and her staff have been working 14-hour days as Tuesday's Election Day gets closer.
John Campbell, custodian of elections in Georgia's Catoosa County, said he's not sure whether early votes this year will match the 13,000 the county recorded in 2008.
"It doesn't look like we'll hit it right now," he said. "We're just shy of 10,000 now -- it would have to be two very busy days."
But, he added, the last two days of early voting are usually the busiest.
Still, Election Day is always busier than early voting, which started in Tennessee on Oct. 17. In 2008, Hamilton County pulled in a total of 148,000 voters, and 80,000 of those were cast on Election Day.
Samantha Bonner said those 80,000 voters are a good reason to vote early.
"I figured I was just getting off work, and I wanted to avoid the Nov. 6 rush," she said Wednesday. "It's so quick now, and there's no telling what it will be on Election Day."
A steady stream of people flowed through the Hamilton County Election Commission Wednesday. By 4:30 p.m. most people were getting in and out within 10 minutes.
A new law requiring voters to present a photo ID at their polling precincts went into effect this year, but Mullis-Morgan said she hasn't heard of any trouble with voters forgetting their IDs. Most voters seemed happy to vote early, she said.
"Their attitudes have been great," she said. "They haven't had to wait in line very long; they choose when they get to come; they seem to appreciate the fact that they are voting early."
A little more than 1.2 million people had voted across Tennessee as of Wednesday, said Blake Fontenay, communications director at the Tennessee secretary of state's office. The state's early voting numbers were on track to meet or beat 2008, but bad weather in northern Tennessee has slowed the votes, he said
"We were really doing well until the last couple of days," he said. "In upper East Tennessee, they've had that snow associated with [Hurricane] Sandy and that seems to have an impact on some of those counties."
He said today's turnout must be very strong to beat the 1.5 million early votes recorded in 2008. But, he added, he's happy with the overall turnout.
"Worst case, this will be the second-highest election for early voting," he said. "We just encourage people, if they can, to make it out today."
By Wednesday afternoon in Georgia, about 1.3 million people had voted, officials said, with the metro Atlanta counties -- Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett -- totaling the highest numbers.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...