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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A bottle of hand sanitizer sits next to a voting partition at Mountain Creek Church of Christ on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, long wait times and other hurdles, local voters smashed turnout records in the 2020 presidential election.

In Tennessee, a record-breaking 3,045,401 — or more than 68% of registered voters — cast ballots in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

According to Secretary of State Tre Hargett, voter turnout and participation handily beat the previous record set during the 2008 presidential election when 2,618,238 people cast their ballots.

"For months, our office has worked with election commissions and health officials across the state to ensure that in-person voting was clean, safe and secure," Hargett said in a release. "Traditionally, Tennesseans prefer to vote in person. We've said it for months, and yet again, voters showed their confidence in the safety precautions in place and their preference to cast a ballot in person by showing up in record numbers at the polls."

The uptick is due in part to increased and also unprecedented early and absentee voting, a change brought on by the pandemic.

"We would not have seen the record numbers of voters have such a smooth voting experience during a pandemic without the months and countless hours of planning by Tennessee's 95 election commissions, administrators, and staff," Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins wrote. "Thanks to the roughly 17,000 poll officials who stepped up to serve their communities and carry out all the planning to provide Tennesseans with a safe and secure in-person voting experience."

(READ MORE: Trump wins big in Chattanooga region, but Democrats see a bump)

And it was even better in Hamilton County.

In Hamilton, the percentage of registered voters who actually cast ballots (72.9%) went down slightly from the 2016 presidential election (73.5%), but the total number of votes went up by about 27,000, from 145,049 to 172,079 in 2020. That's about an 18.6% increase in votes cast in Hamilton County.

The number of registered voters in Hamilton County was up 19.6% from 2016, hitting 235,939 in 2020.

"The staff here has been unbelievable and working hard to ensure that this election goes smoothly for everyone in Hamilton County, and we just, we hope voters have confidence in the process and the turnout looks like they do," interim administrator of Elections Scott Allen said on Election Day. "We've got good leadership in the state and good staff locally and people really took advantage of it this year, which is very positive to see for sure."

Early voting in Hamilton County was up some 35% over previous presidential elections, Allen said.

With more than 2.3 million early and absentee votes cast, Georgia's surge of votes is still being counted days after the election. That turnout is projected to flip the state from Republican to Democrat and help secure the presidential election for now President-Elect Joe Biden.

"Georgia is recognized as a national leader in elections. It was the first state in the country to implement the trifecta of automatic voter registration, at least 16 days of early voting (which has been called the "gold standard"), and no-excuse absentee voting," Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wrote in a release. "Georgia continues to set records for voter turnout and election participation, seeing the largest increase in average turnout of any other state in the 2018 midterm election and record primary turnout in 2020, with over 1.1 million absentee by mail voters and over 1.2 million in-person voters utilizing Georgia's new, secure, paper ballot voting system."

In Alabama, lower but still record-setting numbers released by the state Wednesday morning showed a 61.85% turnout, or 2.29 million votes.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.

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