NASHVILLE — Early voting in Tennessee’s Nov. 2 general election starts today with with state officials saying that 1 million voters, at least half of those expected to vote, could choose to cast their ballots early.
There’s a lot on the line as voters will choose a new governor, elect at least three new U.S. congressmen and decide which party controls the state House.
Voters also will be asked to determine whether hunting and fishing should be a state right with a proposed constitutional amendment.
In Georgia, early voting for the Nov. 2 election is ongoing and will end Oct. 29 in all counties.
Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins said Tuesday he expects a heavy voter turnout during the 15-day period between now and Oct. 28, when the state’s voters can avoid traditional Election Day headaches by voting early.
“I’m going to set a goal and it’s a high goal, but I’m going to set a [early-voting] goal in a non-presidential year of a million people,” Goins said.
He said that would be “at least 50 percent” of the projected overall turnout of 1.8 million to 2 million people.
Tennessee has 3.89 million registered voters, about 3.54 million of whom are considered “active” voters because they have cast ballots in recent elections.
“I think we’re going to have a good turnout,” said Hamilton County Election Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan.
Because she’s been focused on getting early voting sites ready for today, she had not had time to come up with local estimates, she said.
Getting top billing in the general election is the governor’s race in which Republican Bill Haslam and Democrat Mike McWherter are squaring off over who will succeed the term-limited Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.
Early voting, implemented in 1994, has forced candidates to step up television advertising, direct mail, phone calls and door knocking, according to candidates and political operatives.
David Smith, a spokesman for Haslam, said “emphasizing and working early voting was a major part of our plan in the primary and continues to be in the general election.”
“Getting motivated and excited voters to the polls during early voting ensures their vote is in the bank — no matter what comes about on Election Day,” he said.
McWherter, who began his television advertising campaign only last Friday, said early voting has assumed a greater importance in campaign strategy over the years.
“It’s not that more people are voting nowadays, but more people are early voting,” he said. “Frankly, I think if you don’t get up with your media campaign in time to reach those early voters, the game is over with.”
In other state and federal contests, 3rd Congressional District Republican Chuck Fleishmann, Democrat John Wolfe of Chattanooga and several independent candidates are vying to replace U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who gave up the seat for an unsuccessful GOP primary bid for governor.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the district, which includes Hamilton and Bradley counties, as “solid” Republican.
Next door in the 4th Congressional District, verbal bullets are flying with U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., seeking to hold off a strong challenge from Republican Scott DesJarlais of Jasper. The contest has become increasingly fierce with Davis using details of DesJarlais’ 2001 divorce in a television ad.
The Cook report says the district leans Democratic.
In Middle and West Tennessee, voters in the 6th and 8th Congressional Districts are choosing replacements for retiring U.S. Reps. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., and John Tanner, D-Tenn.
Meanwhile, a statewide battle is raging between Republicans and Democrats over who will control Tennessee’s state House in 2011 and 2012 when legislative and congressional districts will be reapportioned and redrawn according to new population estimates. Republicans now have a 50-48 edge in the 99-member chamber with one independent, House Speaker Kent Williams.
In Chattanooga and other parts of Southeast Tennessee, however, most incumbents will be re-elected with no opposition. Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, has no one running against him, nor do five of the region’s six House members. The exception is in the 28th Legislative District where Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, faces a challenge from Republican Teresa Wood.
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Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...