Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / People wait in line to vote at the East Brainerd A & B Polling Place at Covenant Presbyterian Church on Thursday.

Voter turnout was low across the board during the election in Hamilton County on Thursday, with 50,464 ballots cast out of an eligible voter pool of 235,853 people.

Hamilton County Administrator of Elections Scott Allen said it's unclear whether those numbers had a major impact overall on the winners.

"The margins were pretty decent on most of the races, so I'm not sure the turnout really affected that," he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press by phone on Friday.

However, one notable exception is the District 11 race for Hamilton County Commission, where a razor-thin difference of 30 votes ended up separating the two candidates — Republican Joseph Graham and Democrat Montrell Besley — on Thursday night with 4,292 ballots cast in the race, according to tallies posted on the Election Commission website.

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Unofficial results show Graham eking out a victory over Besley.

"When those lines were drawn, we knew just internally from dealing with precincts in that area that it was split pretty even between D's and R's," Allen said by phone. "We knew it was almost 50-50, and that proved to hold true with the election."

Allen said there are 13 provisional ballots in that race that remain to be counted, but that wouldn't be enough to sway the outcome.

Overall, 21.4% of eligible voters in Hamilton County went to the polls on Thursday, which is slightly lower than comparable elections in August 2014 and 2018.

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Hamilton County election day voting

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According to Allen, about 29% of eligible voters participated during the August 2018 election, and 26% in August 2014. Turnout on Thursday ended up being slightly higher than the 21% voter participation that Hamilton County saw for county primary races in May.

Allen said the low turnout on Thursday likely stems from the relatively small amount of opposition in state races for governor and General Assembly.

Following the results of the 2020 census, Hamilton County leaders opted to increase the number of seats on the County Commission and school board, expanding them from nine to 11.

Graham previously represented District 6 on the County Commission but was unseated in 2018 by Democrat David Sharpe, who successfully defended that post Thursday against Republican Ruth Jeno. Another incumbent, Commissioner Steve Highlander, R-Ooltewah, also held off a challenge from Democrat Steve Caudle.

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"It always has a huge influence," Graham said. "Turnout is always key for any race, and that's proven year-after-year in any election."

He added that the new District 11 has a fairly balanced split between Democrats and Republicans, and Graham said he believes it is the most diverse and dynamic district in the county.

"You've got some of the richest people in the county living in this district, and you have some of the poorest people in this district and everybody in between," he said. "You've got every nationality, race, color and creed. It's a phenomenal district."

How is Graham going to ensure all of those diverse voices are heard? He plans to be as accessible as possible.

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"Everywhere I go, and I've done this for years, I put my cell phone out," he said. "I don't care if I've talked to that group five, 10, 15 times, when I'm speaking about an issue, I hold my cell phone up and I say, 'Here's my cell phone number.' You can't be represented if you can't find your representative."

Besley said by phone that the outcome from Thursday's election was rough.

"It hurts, but this too shall pass, and we have to definitely move forward and keep pushing," he said.

Turnout was also lower than expected, and he hasn't ruled out requesting a recount.

"We have to as a community really press on the importance of local voting," Besley noted. "As we've seen now, it came down to 30 votes, so hopefully, this election wakes people up."

Contact David Floyd at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.

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