Hamilton County election day voter turnout 'steady' despite rain, traffic

People check in with poll workers before voting on election day at Concord Baptist Church on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

View our 2018 Voter Guide

Polls across Hamilton County close in less than two hours, and despite the rainy weather, some precincts are seeing much higher voter turnout than in previous primary elections already.

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.

photo Election Official Don Shoemaker peels off "I Voted" stickers from a roll on election day at Concord Baptist Church on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"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.

photo John Altick fills out his ballot on election day at Concord Baptist Church on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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

The Bethlehem Center and Alton Park precinct had tallied 230 votes by 4 p.m.

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.

photo Kirk Chapman, a highway maintenance specialists with Hamilton County Public Works, loads privacy booths into a car to take voting materials to a Soddy Daisy precinct at the Hamilton County Election Commission Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Each poll worker sent to pick up items for their precinct received water, signs, privacy booths, officer supplies and other voting equipment.

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.

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.

"We've had our training," Wingfield said, noting that she thought election officials had "done a good job rolling with the punches" delivered with the news regarding the confused district lines.

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.

Around 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Helen Gross, the officer of elections at Concord precincts 1-7 at Concord Baptist Church on East Brainerd Road, was sitting with one of the voters who had to use a provisional ballot. The precinct is one of the county's largest, and had tallied 65 votes by 9:45 a.m., she said.

"He was curious as to why," Gross said of her first provisional ballot caster of the day. Gross said the district lines mix up was news to her.

"The first I heard of it is when I picked up my materials yesterday," she said. "But now that I've done one, I'm ready with the promise that their vote will be counted."

Missionary Ridge voters James Peters and Edna Dodson said they didn't care whether it rained or not, they always cast their ballots on election day. Peters had voted early but was giving Dodson a ride to the polls on election day.

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 does 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.