published Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Early voting here to stay

Early voting is obviously an option that finds favor with many voters in Hamilton County and in the surrounding region. Tens of thousands have turned out to cast ballots in the current early voting period, which concludes this evening in Tennessee and on Friday in Georgia. Indeed, traffic at polling stations has been heavy across Tennessee and Georgia.

That certainly was true on Wednesday. A Hamilton County election official reported that each of the county's four early voting stations had "lines pretty much the whole time," though she did add that the lines were moving smoothly with no reports of problems. By the time polls closed Tuesday, more than 57,000 of Hamilton County's about 222,000 registered voters had cast an early ballot. By any measure, that's an impressive total. It suggests a record number of early votes could be cast before polls close tonight.

The same is true in Georgia. In Catoosa County in Georgia, for example, an election official said turnout "had been steady" throughout the early voting period. By midday Wednesday, more than 9,600 of the county's 41,000 registered voters had cast a ballot. That number is sure to rise significantly before voting concludes Friday.

Statewide early voting totals in both Tennessee and Georgia indicate widespread participation in early voting. Through Tuesday, more than 1.2 million Tennesseans had voted early and the state was on a pace to break the 2008 early voting total of about 1.5 million. That record still could be broken, but state officials say bad weather spawned by the remnants of Superstorm Sandy in the northeastern part of the state could reduce the turnout there.

Whether Georgia will break its 2008 record of about 2 million early votes is uncertain. More than 1.3 million early votes had been cast through early Wednesday. A heavy turnout in the last couple of days before the end of early voting could push the total to record numbers, officials say, but they seem reluctant to say so definitively.

Acceptance of early voting has grown since its introduction, and it is more popular in presidential election years than at other times in the voting cycle. The current campaign — most polls indicate the Obama-Romney race remains extremely close — follows that pattern.

There is, of course, more on the current ballot than the presidential contest. There are local and state elections as well to attract voter attention. Given that, there's ample reason for voters to cast a ballot at a time of their choosing than risk not being able to vote on Election Day.

The turnouts here and elsewhere are impressive. Early voting allows individuals to make their voices heard and their vote count at the most basic level of democracy. Election officials here and elsewhere are right to celebrate the turnout and to continue to encourage early voters. It is an invitation many citizens should find appealing.

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