Early voting starts Wednesday for Chattanooga runoff election

Early voting starts Wednesday for Chattanooga runoff election

March 21st, 2017 by Paul Leach in Politics Local

A voter enters the Hamilton County Election Commission for early voting on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Runoff election candidates

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Runoff election dates

› Early voting:¬†March 22-April 6

› Last day election office accepts absentee ballot requests: April 4

› Election day:¬†April 11

› More information: Contact the Hamilton County Election Commission at 423-493-5100 or visit its website at elect.hamiltontn.gov.

Document: Chattanooga runoff election sample ballot

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Document: Notice of polling places for Chattanooga runoff election

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

Early voting starts Wednesday for the 2017 Chattanooga municipal election runoff, with a pair of City Council seats on the line.

While councilmen Chris Anderson and Yusuf Hakeem got the most votes in their re-election bids for District 7 and 9, respectively, neither scored the required majority to win those seats outright when the March 7 election was said and done. When that happens in a Chattanooga election, the candidates with the highest and second-highest vote totals go to the mat for a final round.

The runoff election, scheduled for April 11, pits Erskine Oglesby Jr. against Anderson and Demetrus Coonrod against Hakeem.

On Monday, the candidates all said every votes counts, now more than ever. However, candidates traditionally draw fewer voters when it comes to Chattanooga's runoff elections.

"It comes down to how you connect with the citizens and your ability to deliver your message," Oglesby said on bringing out supporters for the last yards of the District 7 race. "I have a plan and passion for moving this district forward."

Early voting is key, Oglesby said, voicing concerns over the potential for election day stormy weather to drown turnout.

Anderson, who brought in 811 of the 1,701 votes cast in the District 7 race, said it comes down to bringing out people his campaign had identified as supporters.

He said a number of people told him they didn't bother to vote because they believed he had the election "in the bag." That's just not true, Anderson said, describing the District 7 election as "a very competitive three-way race," which also featured former councilman Manny Rico.

The district, which incorporates the Alton Park, Downtown, East Lake and St. Elmo precincts, saw a 20 percent jump over its 2013 polling numbers, totaling 1,416 votes in 2013. That was the year Anderson unseated Rico in a four-way race in which he took 802 votes — more than 56 percent of the ballots cast.

Combined, Anderson and Oglesby brought in more than the total 2013 vote. Rico earned 260 votes, about half of what he received four years ago.

Rico said he wants Oglesby to win.

"On the night of the election, I put on my Facebook page that I wanted my supporters to vote for Oglesby," Rico said. "It's not about me. Anderson is not the kind of man I want representing my district or my city."

Anderson picked up the most votes in the St. Elmo and Downtown precincts, while Oglesby took the lion's share in Alton Park. The trio divided East Lake's 220 votes about as close as they could, with Rico walking away with 76 votes, leaving 72 apiece for the other two candidates.

Hakeem and Coonrood will play out the final stretches of their campaigns in a district where about one-third of the votes cast in the March 7 election went to third- and fourth-place candidates John L. Kerns and Pat Benson Jr.

Coonrod, who received 600 votes to Hakeem's 954, has called for the supporters of the losing candidates to get behind her in a recent announcement. Kerns received 491 votes and Benson earned 262 votes.

"I know many of you are probably burned out from voting, but we can't stop now," she said. "But if you are anything like me or my friends Mr. Kerns or Mr. Benson Jr., then I know you're just as fed up with the lack of progress happening in our district under our current city councilman."

Coonrod, who serves as vice chairwoman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said she plans to continue an aggressive campaign to bring out folks who might have skipped the election.

"You still have a chance to vote," she said of voters who did not cast any of the 2,307 ballots logged in the council race for District 9, which inlcudes the East Chattanooga, Eastdale, Glenwood, Missionary Ridge and Ridgedale precincts. Overall, the district saw a 12 percent boost over its 2013 turnout.

Hakeem received 209 of the 426 votes cast in East Chattanooga, 363 of Eastdale's 760 votes and 155 of Glenwood's 335 ballots, taking between 46 percent and 49 percent of all the council votes cast in those precincts.

Missionary Ridge proved a harder nut to crack for Hakeem, who only gained 104 votes compared to 170 ballots for Kerns and 141 votes for Benson. Kerns won Ridgedale with 138 votes, but Hakeem trailed closely with 123 votes.

Hakeem said he has reached out to Kerns and Benson since the election.

"They [Hakeem and Coonrod] are both great candidates with strong ideas, but I do not plan to endorse either one," Benson said.

Kerns could not be reached for comment.

This is not the first close election battle for Hakeem, nor is it the first runoff he has fought. He won five elections to the District 9 seat between 1990 and 2005 and edged out incumbent Peter Murphy by six votes in 2013.

Runoff experience comes in handy, Hakeem said.

"It's going to take some phone calls and taking people to the polls," Hakeem said. "Our greatest focus in the runoff will be to get our supporters back out to the polls."

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.