published Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Early vote strong in Hamilton County

Beth Hamrick, bottom left, aids Taylor Walden, 18, as she votes for the first time at the Hamilton County Election Commission in this file photo.
Beth Hamrick, bottom left, aids Taylor Walden, 18, as she votes for the first time at the Hamilton County Election Commission in this file photo.
Photo by Dan Henry.

BY THE NUMBERS

Early voting totals in comparable elections:

* August 2014: 21,034 early votes

* August 2010: 16,272 early votes, 24.9 percent of the total vote

* August 2006: 16,799 early votes, 27 percent of the total vote

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Saturday's rain did not stop early voters from traveling to the Brainerd Recreation Center to cast their ballots.

"I always vote early to skip the lines," said Ruby L. White, a voter at the rec center. "Nothing, not even this rain, would stop me from casting my vote today."

Saturday marked the final day of early voting in Tennessee before the primary election Thursday. It's the biggest ballot in eight years, with everything from U.S. House and Senate and statewide primaries, a galaxy of judicial retention elections and the county general election plus local judges and some municipal races.

In Hamilton County, 21,034 people cast ballots during the two-week early voting period. Elections Administrator Kerry Steelman said the numbers were "better than expected."

Some 15,284 people cast Republican ballots, 5,504 were Democratic and 246 were general. Absentee ballots counted for 480 votes.

The number of early votes this year greatly exceeded those in the comparable years of 2006 and 2010, Steelman said.

State elections officials had urged people to vote early and avoid lines on Election Day.

"Early voting is growing in popularity and may not affect the election's total turnout, but may make for a higher percentage of people voting early," said Blake Fontenay, communications director for the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office.

Steelman agrees and is curious to see if the high number of early voters in Hamilton County are new voters, or if they are regular voters who are choosing to vote early.

"We really pushed early voting this year because of how lengthy the ballot is, especially with the judicial retention questions," Fontenay said.

He said this is one of the longest ballots on record in Tennessee, if not the longest. It takes five to eight minutes on average to complete.

"We are not offering fast voting, but early voting" said Louise Patterson, voter registration supervisor for Hamilton County.

Sherione Bowers voted early to avoid waiting in a long line. "It is just more convenient," she said.

Election officials working at the Brainerd Recreation Center on Saturday joked that the large number of voters coming out meant that they wouldn't have enough time to eat lunch.

"Early voting has been exciting for the election commission staff in Hamilton County," Steelman said. "This is our business and to see the level of voter enthusiasm is exciting."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-692.

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