published Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

40 percent drop in ballots as Tennessee early voting period ends

Randy Akins exits the mobile polling station in the Bi-Lo parking lot on APD 40 in Cleveland, Tenn., on Tuesday after casting his ballot on the final day of early voting in Tennessee.
Randy Akins exits the mobile polling station in the Bi-Lo parking lot on APD 40 in Cleveland, Tenn., on Tuesday after casting his ballot on the final day of early voting in Tennessee.
Photo by John Rawlston.

ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennesseans cast 40 percent fewer ballots going into the last day of early voting Tuesday compared with the presidential primary in 2008.

Nearly 153,000 people had voted through Monday, with 79 percent of ballots cast in the Republican presidential primary. But without a challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama, voting totals are far off the state record set in 2008.

Turnout is 73 percent higher than during Republican President George W. Bush's re-election in 2004.

Early voting has been heaviest in Knox County, where more than 11,000 people have voted in the Republican primary, compared with only 878 Democrats. The next highest Republican turnout has occurred in Shelby, Rutherford, Hamilton and Williamson counties.

Four counties — Perry, Clay, Van Buren and Lake — have registered fewer than 125 in the Republican primary. In Hancock County, only four Democratic votes have been cast.

The secretary of state's office only began tracking the partisan breakdown for the early voting period in 2010, so there is no way to compare whether Republican turnout is stronger or weaker than in past presidential primaries, said spokesman Blake Fontenay.

A lower early voting turnout doesn't preclude heavy voting on Super Tuesday, said state Republican Party Executive Director Adam Nickas.

"Less than 30 percent of the overall vote occurred during early voting in the 2008 primary," he said.

Neither party's eventual nominee won the presidential primary in Tennessee in 2008, when Republicans gave the nod to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Democrats voted to nominate Hillary Clinton.

Among this year's Republican candidates, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich have made recent campaign swings through Tennessee. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who came in third in Tennessee four years ago, has yet to make any public campaign appearances, though he has drawn the support of Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell.

This year's early voting period was also been shortened by two days from the 14 days of past primaries.

Nashville metro government worker Jimmie Fitzgerald, 41, was among those casting early ballots Monday.

"I vote early every year to beat the crowd," he said. "I try to encourage everybody to do it, to just get it out of the way."

Albert Tieche, Davidson County's administrator of elections, said early voting helps avoid standing in line.

"It makes it more convenient and takes some of the pressure off of election day," he said. "Does it boost turnout? Not sure. Does it make it more convenient? Absolutely."

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