By Michael Davis
Voters in Tuesday’s primary election will be able to select candidates in 32 separate Hamilton County and Chattanooga races. But candidates in many races face no opponent and will win outright.
Of the 29 county races, only 13 are contested in the primary and/or general election. And in 21 of 29 county races, Tuesday’s election will determine the winner of a race because no one is on the ballot from the other party.
Hamilton County Election Administrator Bud Knowles said the lack of contested elections indicates public satisfaction with sitting office-holders.
“If people didn’t think they’re doing a good job, there’d be more people come forward and run against them,” he said.
But Lisa Clark Diller, an associate professor of history at Southern Adventist University who follows local politics, said a lack of real contests in local races leaves the public feeling less engaged. If there were multiple candidates in a race and a true contest, then people would feel that more is at stake and they would be more willing to care about that race, Dr. Diller said.
An exception to this trend locally could be the sheriff’s race, where two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent are running, “because there is a sense that there could be real change,” she said.
In the race for the Hamilton County Commission seats, there are six contested primaries. In three of those races, no one is running from the other party, so the winner will be determined Tuesday.
All three city races —; two city judgeships and one special election for a Chattanooga City Council seat —; will be decided Tuesday.
There are 10 county judge races, but most candidates are running unopposed; only two will feature a contest in the primary and/or general election.
Dr. Diller said sometimes incumbents aren’t challenged because they are seen to be good, civic-minded people. In other cases, she said, people who may consider challenging office-holders decide not to run because they don’t want to hurt an incumbent’s feelings.
“People that want to be involved in politics kind of think, ‘Maybe I’ll just wait until he or she retires,’” she said.
George and Terry Farr voted Thursday on the final day of early voting. After casting ballots at the Election Commission office downtown, Mrs. Farr said she would like to see more contested races.
Mrs. Farr, who said she voted in the Republican primary, said she noticed that no GOP candidate qualified for several races. But she said she does not like the idea of a candidate from the opposition party challenging an incumbent just for the sake of challenge.
“I’d rather vote for a good Democrat than an unqualified Republican,” she said.
With few contested races, Mr. Knowles said turnout has suffered during the early voting period. He said more people will vote in the Aug. 3 county general and state and federal primary elections.
Mr. Knowles said he hopes turnout will be higher than the 10.66 percent overall in the May 2002 primary election.
“There’s room for improvement, and I think we will (improve) this year,” he said.
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Bobby Wood said if there was any reason to unseat an incumbent, voters surely would do so.
“They’re just as quick to react when they see those people that are going contrary to their responsibilities,” he said.
Stuart James, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said potential opponents often do not want to invest the time and resources in challenging an incumbent.
For instance, he said, Chattanooga City Court Judge Sherry Paty has been on the bench a relatively short time and is being challenged by Gerald Webb. But Chattanooga Judge Russell Bean has been in office longer and is not being challenged, Mr. James said.
“The longer a judge is in, the more unbeatable they are seen,” Mr. James said.
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Hours for Tuesday’s elections are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polling places can be viewed at the Hamilton County Election Commission Web site at http://elect.hamiltontn.gov.