WHERE TO VOTE EARLY
• Brainerd Rec Center, 1010 N. Moore Road, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday
• Eastwood Church, 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday
• Hamilton County Election Commission, 700 River Terminal Road, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday
• Northgate Mall, entrance at former Shane's Rib Shack/Pizza Hut near Belk, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday
NASHVILLE — Early voting begins across Tennessee today, and election officials project as many as half the votes in the Aug. 2 election could be cast in the 15-day period.
"I would expect 40 to 50 percent [of the overall number who vote] to turn out this time," State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said Thursday.
Early voting runs through July 28.
Goins said it's difficult to guess at turnout for early voting and on election day, given the lack of hotly contested statewide primaries.
"There's certain areas that have some hot races, legislative races," Goins said. "But you don't have the sheriff or county mayor [in most places] on the ballot and those typically bring folks out."
Fiercely contested Republican primaries in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Chattanooga, and the 6th Congressional District near Nashville, could drive voter interest in affected counties, Goins said.
In the 2008 August primary, a similar cycle, only 14.92 percent of voters cast ballots. But of the 562,795 who did, 38.64 percent voted early or absentee, according to Secretary of State records.
The state has 3.9 million registered voters.
The August ballot lists primary contests for U.S. Senate, Congress and the General Assembly. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is the overwhelming favorite in his GOP primary, according to observers, and the Democrats running for their party nomination are not well known.
All 95 counties have general election contests for property assessor and school board, while some have special elections.
In Hamilton County, for example, it's a special election for Hamilton County mayor and a Hamilton County Commission seat.
The open seat in state Senate District 10, which includes parts of Hamilton and Bradley counties, is drawing voter interest, as is the state House District 28 contest.
Goins and others say early voting gradually has changed the tactics of many campaigns, which in the past could limit advertising and direct-mail blitzes to the days just before Election Day. In 2010, he said, he heard a lot of candidates complaining about the "financial strain" on their campaign budgets.
"Used to be you'd save all your money until two weeks before the election and dump it," Goins said. "Now everything begins 20 days before the election."
But Goins and state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, say early voting is far more convenient for the people casting the ballots.
"I think it's a good idea overall," McCormick said, noting that a "lot of people have to work late" and some go out of town on vacation or have other planned trips.
For candidates, however, McCormick said, "you have to spend more money and spend it earlier because, when you've got half the people voting early, it doesn't do any good to wait until a few days before election day to hit the advertising."
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, ...