Hamilton County voters are beating a path to the polls this year.
Midterm elections are known for low turnout, but not this time. The pace of early voting for the Nov. 6 elections so far is close to the number of ballots cast in the 2016 presidential election, according to Hamilton County Election Commission figures.
As of Friday night, 42,134 early ballots had been cast. That's almost 4,700 a day, compared to about 5,200 a day in 2016. By comparison, the rate in the 2014 midterms was about 1,880 a day.
Early voting continues through Nov. 1.
Local political party leaders said the open U.S. Senate and governor seats, along with a revved-up voter base, are driving the heavy early turnout.
"We are thrilled with early voting," said Marsha Yessick, chairwoman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, who praised local House and Senate candidates, along with what she said is "very positive" support on national issues.
"We feel the numbers are way up. I think there are a lot of reasons — a great president who has made so many promises and kept them. The [Brett] Kavanaugh [Supreme Court] hearings, and the borders. We have to remember we want people into this country legally. We're very proud of [President Donald Trump] for taking a stance and sticking to it. He is keeping America safe.
"Also, he's keeping America wealthy," Yessick added, referring to reports of 3.5 percent GDP growth in the third quarter. "All of those things are taking Republicans to the polls because we want to keep the Republican Party in the House and Senate and it's looking very positive."
Yessick said the local party still doesn't know if the president will campaign in Chattanooga before Election Day. He has strongly supported Marsha Blackburn, the Republican running to replace Bob Corker in the U.S. Senate, and Yessick said she's been flooded with calls and texts seeking tickets.
"We feel fairly confident but there are lots of cities in Tennessee he can visit and a lot of pre-security that has to be done," Yessick said.
Democrats also are excited about the strong turnout, county party chairwoman Khristy Wilkinson said Friday.
"We've been ranked in the lowest for voter turnout and so I'm really encouraged that this is happening, that people are expressing their opinions," Wilkinson said.
Local Democrats are charged up over national issues such as health care, immigration and the Kavanaugh hearings, she said, but she's also focused as chairwoman on races and issues closer to home.
State and county issues "have a much deeper impact on our day-to-day lives," Wilkinson said. "It's not just who's the president or who is in the Senate or Congress, but the state legislature and the county commission matter, too."
For the first time in years, Democrats are running in every Hamilton County state House race and the Senate District 11 contest, and Wilkinson said competition drives turnout.
"If people aren't participating, we can't say our representatives are democratically elected," she said.
Contact Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.