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Fewer Chattanooga residents are registered to vote this year

polls here 3883

Early Voting Places and Times

› Brainerd Recreation Center, Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 1010 N. Moore Road, Chattanooga

› North River Civic Center, Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 1009 Executive Drive #102, Hixson

› Election Commission Office, Monday-Friday: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., 700 River Terminal Road, Chattanooga

Early voting ends March 2.

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Polling Places

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District map

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Early voting numbers for the Chattanooga city election are tracking closely to 2013 numbers, but they have a ways to go to surpass the 7,320 early votes cast four years ago.

As of the early voting period midpoint on Wednesday, the Hamilton County Election Commission had tallied 3,267 votes, including 357 nursing home and mail-in votes. This is a slight uptick over the 3,185 votes cast by the 2013 early voting midpoint. However, four years ago the last two days of early voting each brought in an average of 814 votes, well over the 522 daily average.

There are 96,329 registered Chattanooga voters, compared to 111,324 registered to vote in 2013. Four years ago, 17,873 people voted in the mayoral race, which would result in a victory for Andy Berke, a well-funded former state senator.

Kelvin Scott, a Democrat serving on the Election Commission, pointed at voter education and fatigue as key factors in voting numbers for the city election.

"A presidential election can burn out voters, especially if they put a lot of effort and energy into the presidential election," Scott said.

Scott called for increased voter education to turn people around on their thinking when it comes to local elections and to getting them out to vote, period. Local government will have a greater day-to-day impact on people's lives despite all the passion and excitement involved in a presidential election, he said.

Election Commission Chairman Michael S. Walden, a Republican, had no real comment on early voter turnout numbers.

"I don't have the figures in front of me and I haven't seen them," Walden said in a phone call, explaining he was on his way to Nashville.

When told of the latest figures, he said he "really had nothing to say" and directed all questions to Kerry Steelman, election office administrator.

Steelman provided voter data but did not comment on voter turnout comparisons between the two elections.

On the ground, District 6 Councilwoman Carol Berz continues to assist voter participation. The unopposed candidate has opened her Brainerd Village council office, located at 5896 Brainerd Road, to host registration and early voting opportunities on Saturdays over the last month.

"We don't care what district you're from or who you plan to vote for," Berz has said.

This Saturday her office will shuttle voters to the polls between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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In January, the Election Commission denied a City Council request for additional early voting locations.

The council asked election commissioners to include the South Chattanooga and Glenwood Youth and Family Development Centers along with three existing early voting sites: the Brainerd Recreation Center, the North River Civic Center in Northgate and the Election Commission office on Amnicola Highway.

The issue put Scott and Walden on opposite sides of the commission's 3-1 vote against the council's wishes.

Scott said it came down to accessibility, citing complaints over long lines and transportation problems to early voting sites in the presidential election.

"You have people in certain parts of town who cannot get way over to Brainerd," Scott said. "They cannot get way down to Amnicola."

Walden said the commission needed supporting data to justify additional early voting sites — not hunches, feelings, or "a request from a politician." He also pointed out the commission already provides two satellite early voting locations when the law only requires one.

"Study it, look at it, and then make a decision," Walden said, calling for the commission to take its time if it was going to consider more early voting stations.

The complaints alone warranted the additional sites, Scott said.

Commissioner Ruth Braly described early voting as "just a convenience."

"We have election day, which gives people the opportunity to vote," Braly said.

Early voting ends March 2. Election day is March 7.

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

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