published Monday, November 19th, 2012

Two-thirds in Bradley County opted for early voting

VOTERS BY THE NUMBERS

Percentage of early and absentee votes

Bradley: 67

Warren: 55

Franklin: 53

Hamilton: 50

Sequatchie: 47

Polk: 44

Marion: 37

Source Tennessee secretary of state; county election commissions

Most Bradley County voters skipped the polls on Election Day and instead cast their ballots during early voting -- part of a statewide trend.

About 67 percent of Bradley County voters hit the polls early, Bradley County Election Commission employee Mimi Angel said. That's up from 65 percent in the 2008 presidential race.

Such a high percentage of early voters is a bit unusual, Angel said.

"From what I'm looking at, we would be one of the highest, percentagewise, for early voting," she said. "We're almost 65 percent in 2008, and I'm looking at some counties that are in the 30s, 40s and 50s. There are a few higher than us, but we are right up there."

Across Tennessee, early voting typically hovers around 50 percent in presidential elections, said Blake Fontenay, communications director for the Tennessee Department of State. It increased from 45 percent in the 2004 presidential election to nearly 60 percent of November's election.

"Generally what we have seen is that the percentage of early voters has increased from election cycle to election cycle, as the popularity of early voting has caught on," he said. "It's just a convenience factor."

In Hamilton County, the percentage of early voters hit about 50 percent in the November election, up from 46 percent in 2008.

"It's easier, it's faster, you can pick your day," said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, administrator of elections. "You have 14 days to vote. You can pick a rainy day, a sunny day, the lines move faster -- it's just the way to vote."

The influx of early voters makes post-election logistics easier, too, Angel said. Bradley County operates three voting locations with about 18 employees during early voting, but opens 17 precincts on election day, with about 140 people working the polls.

"On Election Day, there is a lot of paperwork involved and a lot of mass confusion," she said. "Well, [early voting employees] work more during early voting than just the one Election Day, so they are more skilled, trained better and understand the process better."

Not every county saw a majority of voters before Election Day. Only 37 percent of Marion County voters went early, but the nearly 4,000 early votes recorded was still the highest number the county has ever seen, according to the Marion County Election Commission.

In all, about 2.45 million Tennesseans voted in the Nov. 6 election, Fontenay said. That's down from 2.62 million in the 2008 presidential election.

Mullis-Morgan said she hopes increased early voting will lead to higher overall voter turnouts.

"I would like to think so," she said. "I think a lot of people go out and early vote that wouldn't go out on Election Day."

And while most Tennessee voters opted to hit the polls early this election cycle, Fontenay said he thinks some voters will always hold out for election day.

"Some people see that as an event unto itself and treat it as a special day, or they just want to make sure there are no last-minute surprises," he said.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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