Fewer Tennessee voters came to the polls in this year’s presidential primary than in other states, a new study by the Pew Center on the States shows, but early voting was more popular in the Volunteer State than most others.
“Neither of those statistics surprise me very much,” said Brook Thompson, Tennessee elections administrator. “We’ve become a huge early voting state.”
Nearly 29 percent of ballots cast in Tennessee were cast in early voting, according to the Pew report, making the state second only to Texas, where nearly 44 percent of voters participated in early voting. In Georgia, in-person advance voting accounted for a little more than 10 percent of the vote.
Mr. Thompson said Tennesseans are used to early voting.
“We were the second state to institute early voting as we know it,” he said.
Matt Carrothers, spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, said advance voting is growing in popularity in Georgia.
“It’s certainly something Secretary Handel is promoting,” he said.
Nationwide, about 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the primaries, records show, but only about 26 percent of Tennessee’s voters cast ballots in the state’s Feb. 5 primary.
Tennessee’s lower number may be partially because the primary was on the so-called Super Tuesday, when voters in 24 states went to the polls, including such large-population states as California, New York and New Jersey, Mr. Thompson said.
“We were lumped in with a bunch of other states,” he said.
But, he noted, turnout in this primary was considerably higher than in 2000 or 2004.
“It was the first time we voted more than 1 million people,” he said. About 1.09 million voters went to the polls in the state, according to records.
Turnout in both of the previous presidential primaries was about 15 percent in Tennessee, according to state records.
Georgia’s turnout was a little higher in the previous primaries: 20 percent in 2004 and 26 percent in 2000, according to records. This year, Georgia was just above the national average, with a 31 percent turnout. Georgia’s primary also was Feb. 5.
Mr. Carrothers said Georgia’s turnout was “record setting.” He said the Super Tuesday primary may have attracted more voters, since races on both sides still were highly contested at the time.
Mr. Thompson noted that turnout in the later primaries was higher than expected, possibly bringing up national turnout figures. Though parties often know nominees by March or April, the Democrats didn’t have their nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., until early June, when the primaries were winding down, he said.
University of Georgia demographer Doug Bachtel said this year’s election was “a different ballgame.”
“There’s been a revived interest in the whole election because of a woman running and an African-American,” he said, referring to Sen. Obama and his main opponent in the primaries, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
Those demographic factors may have been the reason Georgia’s turnout was a little higher, he said, since that state has a larger black population than Tennessee.
The urban-rural divide also may have been a factor, Dr. Bachtel said. At about 40 percent, Hamilton County’s turnout was higher than the Tennessee average, records show, while about 36 percent of Knox and Davidson County voters voted.
But in Tennessee’s biggest urban county, Shelby, only around 8 percent of eligible voters turned out, according to state records.