published Friday, November 9th, 2012

Hamilton County voters cast fewer ballots than in 2008


by Chris Carroll

Contrary to optimistic predictions, 6,000 fewer Hamilton County voters cast ballots in Tuesday's presidential election than in 2008, failing to break a record set that year.

Lower turnout happened despite high voter registration levels, including 17,000 new voters added to county rolls in the last four years.

Last week, county Election Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said she expected Tuesday's turnout to obliterate 2008's. Instead, participation declined 4.3 percent, from 148,480 ballots in 2008 to 142,056 this year, according to unofficial results from the Hamilton County Election Commission.

"I don't know what happened, and I wish somebody could explain it," Mullis-Morgan said. "I'm disappointed."

The downward trend manifested across the country, as 11 million fewer Americans ventured out to re-elect or vote against the nation's first black president, according to totals compiled by The New York Times.

Republican Mitt Romney captured 56 percent of the vote in Hamilton County, gaining a single point over 2008 GOP nominee John McCain.

Collecting a little more than 41 percent of the Hamilton County vote, President Barack Obama performed the worst of any presidential Democratic nominee since at least 1992.

County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said precinct changes from redistricting after the 2010 U.S. census prevented many black voters from finding their polling places.

Still, he said, "Obama is not overly popular in this area. We're not denying that."

While the number of Hamilton County voters was down, the county's 69,047 early voters were an increase over 2008, making up half the total ballot count.

State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said more than 1.4 million Tennesseans voted early, or about 60 percent of 2.4 million presidential ballots cast.

Among more than 142,000 Hamilton County voters, two early voters had to cast provisional ballots because they came to the polls without photo ID, Mullis-Morgan said, adding there were no such issues on Election Day.

The 63.9 percent of eligible voters who cast ballots in this year's presidential election fell below the 72.3 percent who voted in 2008 and the 77.7 percent of voters who visited the polls in 2004.

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