published Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Voting begins in Hamilton County



Voters enter the Hamilton County Election Commission building in this file photo.
Voters enter the Hamilton County Election Commission building in this file photo.
Photo by Dan Henry.

EARLY VOTING

• Today-Nov. 1 -- Early voting in Tennessee counties.

HAMILTON COUNTY LOCATIONS

• Brainerd Recreation Center, 1010 North Moore Road and Eastwood Church, 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road; Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

• Northgate Mall, entrance at former Shane's Rib Shack/Pizza Hut next to Belk; Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

• Hamilton County Election Commission, 700 River Terminal Road, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

• Eastwood Church, 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road; Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

For more information, call 493-5100

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

KEY DATES IN HAMILTON COUNTY

• Oct. 30: Last day to request absentee ballot.

• Oct. 17-Nov. 1: Early voting for Nov. 6 election.

IN GEORGIA

Early voting began Monday and runs until Nov. 2. For early voting times and locations, go to the Georgia Secretary of State's website at www.sos.ga.gov.

BY THE NUMBERS

Hamilton County registered voters in presidential elections:

• 2004 -- 176,671

• 2008 -- 205,382

• 2012 -- 222,535

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Bring your photo ID

Starting this year, the state requires all Tennessee voters to bring a photo ID with them to their polling place. Acceptable photo IDs include:

• Tennessee driver's license with photo

• U.S. military photo ID

• U.S. passport

• U.S. Department of Safety and Homeland Security photo ID

• Any photo ID issued by state or federal government, excluding college IDs

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Every 30 seconds or so, the ringing phones at the Hamilton County Election Commission interrupted elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan Tuesday as she tried to explain how swamped her office is on the eve of early voting.

"Can you hear those phones?" she asked. "It's been like that for the past two days, just one after the other. So it's going to be busy. Very busy."

Early voting starts today and ends Nov. 1. Mullis-Morgan's office has readied itself for what is expected to be a massive early-voter turnout after the number of voter registrations reached a record high this election cycle.

"There's so many people who don't vote any other time besides a presidential election," said Mullis-Morgan. "Every four years, they come out in a herd."

In the 2008 presidential elections, more than 1.5 million people in the state voted early, according to state comptroller's spokesman Blake Fontenay.

"It has been as high as 60 percent of voters in the [presidential] election," said Fontenay. "We're not making a prediction, but historically it just keeps going up and up."

Mullis-Morgan said if the record-setting early voting numbers from the Aug. 2 primaries are an indicator, things will be busy at the four precincts set up for voters who don't want to wait until Nov. 6.

In August, early voter turnout was up over 75 percent over the same primary in 2008.

The number of voter registrations for this election also have set a record high at 222,0000. More than 17,000 Hamilton County voters have registered since the 2008 presidential election.

That leap isn't as high as the registration spike before the 2008 election, when more than 25,000 voters signed up, but it still has the election office swamped, Mullis-Morgan said. Employees aren't permitted to take vacations in the 45 days before the election and have been working late the past several evenings, she said.

This year, voters must navigate a new set of requirements. The biggest change comes with a new state law that requires all voters to show government-issued photo identification before casting their ballots. Without an ID on hand, voters may cast a provisional ballot under the condition they return to the Election Commission office two days after Election Day to show their ID.

The other complications will come with several changes to precinct locations for recently redrawn district lines in the county. Voters whose usual precinct locations were changed should have been mailed new cards by July, Mullis-Morgan said, but the heads-up hasn't soothed some voters who have to travel much farther than their route in past elections.

"A lot of people 60 years old and older are voting by mail because they have to travel so far now," she said.

Another recurring issue has been with students and other first-time voters who registered by mail and do not realize that their first vote must be in person in the county so their IDs can be checked.

All those potential complications are reasons cited by Mullis-Morgan as advantages for voting early.

"You pick your day, you pick your time," she said.

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