Tennessee, Georgia smash previous early voting records in first days of November balloting

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Collegedale residents line up at town hall for early voting for the November 3 election on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 in Collegedale , Tenn.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee and Georgia voters shattered early voting records during the first days of the Nov. 3 general election as they eagerly flooded in-person voting sites or cast absentee-by-mail ballots in high-stakes contests for the presidency, Congress and state legislative seats.

Hamilton County voters are doing so, too.

In Tennessee, 453,858 voters cast ballots in person or had their previously sent absentee-by-mail ballots counted Wednesday and Thursday, the first two days of in-person voting in federal and state contests, Secretary of State Tre Hargett said.

That includes 332,777 who cast in-person early votes and another 120,969 who cast absentee mail ballots under relaxed rules allowing people vulnerable to the coronavirus to cite that as an exception to Tennessee's tight restrictions on such ballots. That's nearly double the 64,199 absentee ballots cast during the entire 2016 presidential race.

On the first day of early voting alone, the 273,325 people casting ballots either in-person or absentee by mail shot up 91% over 2016.

"Over 10 percent of Tennessee voters have already voted, and this high turnout demonstrates the public's confidence in Tennessee's electoral process," Hargett said in a statement.

Georgia: 1.37 million voters as of Saturday

In Georgia, where early voting began Monday, 1.37 million people as of noon Saturday had voted, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced.

"Georgia is a leader in election access. Notwithstanding the pandemic, voters in the Peach State can take advantage of no-excuse absentee ballot voting by mail or through a secure drop box; three weeks of early, in-person voting; or Election Day voting," Raffensperger, a Republican, stated.

According to Raffensperger, 737,364 Georgians have now cast early in-person ballots. The total of absentee mail-in ballots was pegged at 635,844.

Hamilton County: 'Record numbers'

Across the border in Tennessee, Hamilton County voters are surging to early voting sites and hitting mailboxes with absentee ballots in high numbers, too, election officials say.

"We are seeing record numbers of in-person early voters," interim Hamilton County Election Administrator Scott Allen said Saturday.

Even before Tennessee in-person early voting officially began Wednesday, Hamilton County voters smashed previous absentee mail-in ballot records.

According to the election commission's vote tally for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 29,151 Hamilton Countians have now cast ballots. That includes 17,854 voters who cast in-person ballots, a record for the first three days, and another 11,297 who voted absentee by mail, also a record.

By comparison, in 2016, the county's three-day in-person voting tally was at 15,074.

Even before Tennessee early voting began Wednesday, Hamilton County election officials had received 9,032 absentee mail-in ballots. That's more than double the total 4,035 absentee mail-in votes cast during the entire 2016 presidential election.

County election officials say that while lines can be long, they don't want voters to be discouraged. They noted the time of processing a voter at each of the county's four early voting sites is about 18 seconds.

Election officials are providing bottles of water to people as they wait. Police are directing traffic to and from polling stations. Voters who have problems standing for long periods of time are being brought to the front of the lines.

In Bradley County, 6,239 people had voted as of the end of business Thursday. Of those, 5,145 cast in-person early votes, with the remaining sending in absentee mail-in ballots.

Alabama: record absentee ballots

While Alabama doesn't have early voting per se, AL.com reported Republican Secretary of State John Merrill saying that as of Tuesday, 91,000 absentee ballots had been cast ahead of the Nov. 3 general election, besting the previous record of 89,000.

"We still have three weeks left and we have broken the record," the news website reported Merrill saying.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.