A disparity in voter turnout between Republican and Democratic precincts in Hamilton County helped fight off an influx of Democratic voters in the 2020 presidential election, keeping the county red.
According to certified numbers by the Hamilton County Election Commission, Republican incumbent President Donald Trump landed 92,108 or 54% of votes to Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden's 75,522 or 44% in Hamilton County during the 2020 election.
That 10% safely gave Trump an unsurprising lead in the historically Republican County, and it came despite an influx of Democratic voters.
In 2016, 78,733 or 55% of Hamilton County voters backed Trump while just 55,315 or 38% voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. This year's additional 20,000 Democratic voters outweighed the added 13,000 Republicans, narrowing the once 17% lead to just 10%.
But, overall, voter turnout still fell short in some of the county's most Democratic areas.
Conservative communities like Apison (with 77-83% of registered voters casting ballots in total at each of the area's three precincts) and Signal Mountain (which had about 82% turnout at both of its precincts) had the best turnout, commensurate to their population.
Between 67% and 100% of Apison voters cast ballots for Republican incumbent Donald Trump, compared to 51-52% in Signal Mountain.
"I think people are more engaged than they've ever been in the issues, at least conservatives are," said Republican County Commissioner Sabrena Smedley, whose district includes Apison. "I think conservatives have really woken up in a sense, and they see that if you're conservative and you're concerned about your religious freedoms, you're concerned about the economy, you're concerned about a strong military and all those other important things, you better get out and vote."
But, recognizing the dwindling margin between Republican and Democratic voters, Smedley said conservatives can't rest on historic voting in the county.
"I think that we have to continue to get our message out, especially to the younger voters, and draw them in to our party," she said. "When you talk to young people, especially young people who are now college graduates, are out in the workforce, they realize how important it is to have a strong economy and to have freedoms and to be able to make their own choices. And I think as conservatives it's very critical that we get that message out and that we really focus more on getting the younger voters out to vote."
The Eastside community in Chattanooga had among the lowest turnouts, at 47-59% at the area's two precincts. East Lake, Avondale and East Chattanooga precincts had similar turnout of between 52% and 62%.
"It goes to show you what's going on with Trump now, contesting a lot of the voting and with people saying 'my vote doesn't count,' people don't trust the process and aren't showing up," said Chattanooga Councilman Anthony Byrd, whose district includes East Lake and Avondale. "Democracy works. And if the people in my district would have come out to vote, we would have seen a blue Hamilton County."
Eastside, Avondale and East Chattanooga voters all decidedly favored Biden, ranging from 77-93%. East Lake supported Biden by a smaller margin, with some 55% of votes cast.
"If we had turned out, if people voted, it could have flipped this year," said Byrd, who spent the months leading up to the election promoting voter turnout in his district. "But we've got to build on that progress."
With about 130 new voters on the board in his two lowest-performing precincts, Byrd says that's a step in the right direction.
"It's kind of a positive at the same time," he said. "I know 130 didn't bring us where we needed to be, but that's still 130 people at just those two precincts in my district who voted this time and didn't last time. That's a win and we just need to keep it moving."
"I have to figure out what is, what is the method of getting more people engaged. What made those 130 people show up this time," he said. "And we have got to do it for president, sure, but also for local elections before that."
"When I ran in 2014, I canvassed that entire district, including Apison, and I went door to door. And what surprised me more than anything is how many folks told me that they don't vote in local elections," she said. "I tried to explain back then how important it is to go vote because everything starts local."
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.