Hamilton County Election Commission to consider more early voting sites

Dozens stand in line to vote early in November at the Hamilton County Election Commission off Amnicola Highway.

Key election dates

› Write-in candidate certification deadline: Jan. 16› Last day to register to vote: Feb. 6› Last day to request absentee ballot: Feb. 28› Early voting period: Feb. 15-March 2› Election Day: March 7› For more information, contact the Hamilton County Election Commission at 423-493-5100 or visit their website at elect.hamiltontn.gov.

photo Area residents line up just inside the doors at the Hamilton County Election Commission off Amnicola Highway during early voting for the November election.
photo Voters wait in line to cast their ballots during early voting at the Hamilton County Election Commission on Amnicola Highway on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hamilton County election commissioners soon will consider increasing the number of Chattanooga's early voting sites in time for the March 7 election.

Last week, the City Council voted 8-1 in favor of asking the election commission to establish the South Chatttanooga Youth and Family Development Center and the Glenwood YFD Center as early voting sites. Councilman Chris Anderson proposed the measure, which initially called for six early voting sites.

Chattanooga voters have used three early voting sites in recent elections: the Hamilton County Election Commission Office off Amnicola Highway, the Brainerd Recreation Center and the North River Civic Center in Northgate.

On Monday, Election Commissioner Kelvin Scott praised the idea of boosting early voting opportunities.

"It's a good thing," Scott said. "This will allow us to address the problem of long lines and other problems."

Scott said he believes increasing the number of early voting sites will receive support at the commission's Jan. 4 meeting, although he questioned whether the South Chattanooga YFD Center would be the best choice for the community. He said he believes the Bethlehem Center would work better for South Chattanooga.

"Bethlehem Center is already a polling place," Scott said, citing advantages of using a location familiar to voters and polling staff.

While Anderson brought the issue before his colleagues last week, it has been brewing since the early voting period leading up the November election, Scott said.

Scott said he brought the matter before other election commissioners after hearing complaints over long early voting lines and their impact upon elderly and minority voters.

Election Commission Chairman Mike Walden could not be reached for comment.

In November, council Chairman Moses Freeman voiced support for early voting in South Chattanooga.

"I think in a way there's some degree of voter depression when you don't have one in a major community like South Chattanooga," Freeman said, citing the "significant amount" of minorities living in the community and a lack of reliable transportation.

Councilman Chip Henderson, who voted against Anderson's proposal, asked the council to wait until the next election cycle to get more accurate information on where the city needed more early voting sites.

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