2018 primary election turnout higher than 2010, 2014

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Overcast skies and the occasional downpour didn't deter Hamilton County voters from turning out at the polls Thursday and surpassing 2014 and 2010 primary election totals.

Of the more than 196,864 eligible voters countywide, 57,053 voted in the primary election, which is still only about 29 percent of registered voters.

Election officials at several precincts near downtown said they experienced a steady number of voters throughout the day.

Standing outside of the Alton Park precinct at the Bethlehem Center shortly after 5 p.m., Lenward Brackin Jr. said he usually votes early but didn't ahead of Thursday's election.

"I was coming no matter what - I've got umbrellas in the car," he said.

The 35-year-old said he knew a couple of the candidates personally, so it made him determined to get out and vote.

"I think part of the issue is people start to complain after the results," he said. "I refuse to be mute on things that are important to me and the community."

Voter turnout for primary elections has slowly increased in the county since 2010, according to figures provided by the Tennessee Secretary of State's election division.

Overall voter turnout in the August 2014 primary election was 53,694, or 26 percent of the 206,044 registered voters. In August 2010, 51,805 of the 207,961 eligible voters turned out, or 24.91 percent.

While precincts were seeing higher than usual numbers in some areas today, state election records on early voting that ended July 28 show Hamilton County dead last in voter turnout.

Turnout in Hamilton County among Republicans in 2014 was 15,473, compared with just 11,913 in 14 days of early voting in 2018. That's a drop of just more than 23 percent.

When it comes to Hamilton County Democrats, early voting turnout was a dismal 5,655 in 2014 but this year's early voting tally shows a huge 65-percent jump to 9,338.

In 2014, an analysis of primary elections across the country showed Tennessee ranked last in voter turnout at 28.5 percent.

Melody Wingfield, the officer of elections at the St. Elmo precinct, and Carolyn Tatum, the officer of elections at the East Lake precinct, both said they were seeing a higher voter turnout Thursday than in the May primaries. By 4:35 p.m. Thursday, the St. Elmo precinct had tallied 281 votes - four times as many ballots cast in the May 1st primary.

"It's a lot heavier than it normally is for primaries," she said. "We had as many people in the first three hours as we had the entire day for the May primary."

East Lake had 122 ballots cast by 4 p.m., which is also more than the precinct saw the entire day during the May primary. Tatum said they never reached 100 votes in May.

"I'm hoping we can get to 200 today," Tatum said. "Quite a few people are asking about the school board race."

To add to the surprises this election season, provisional ballots were issued Wednesday for some voters in several precincts where some mix ups on district lines were discovered this week.

Hamilton County Assistant Administrator of Elections Scott Allen said there had been no problems with the provisional ballots reported by late morning Thursday and turnout had been pretty steady even with gloomy weather.

"There's a lot of interest in District 30, the Helton-Mason race, and on Signal Mountain with the Baker versus Baker race for county commission," he said.

Some voters shared their thoughts on some of the August election's campaign ads.

"I tried to ignore the advertising as much as possible," second-time voter Jonathan Risley said at the Missionary Ridge precinct.

Risley said he studied the candidates' online websites to learn about their platforms and plans.

First-time voter Alecia Buckles, 26, said she hadn't seen any of the political ads because she doesn't watch television and "tossed the mailers" that she received in recent weeks.

She said she was motivated to political action by the election of Donald Trump to the White House.

"I'm not a political person but I'm changing that," she said. "I've got a voice and I've got to use it."

Rhonda Hamilton Roddy, a voter at the Concord precinct, said campaign ads did influence her decision some, but likely not in the way the candidates' expected.

"I really don't like the negative ads, and it doesn't impact the way I vote," Roddy said. "I want them to talk about their principals, their political beliefs."

She said she learned about candidates from friends with similar political views to hers because she "didn't want to go into the voting booth blind.

"I guess that's the reason I hadn't voted previously," she said. "Now, I just can't ignore it."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at ashirk@timesfreepress.com, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.