Time is running out. You have little time left to register to vote in the May 3 county primary elections in Tennessee. One day.
It's not complicated. We're here to help. So is the Hamilton County Election Commission.
First, it's important to say your vote is critical in these local city, county and judicial races. These elections and your votes give you a say in what your school board and county commission — in some places your city governments and city and county/state judges — do with your tax money, your children, your local ordinances, your property and the property around you.
Not least of all, this is your first and perhaps most determining opportunity to weigh in on who decides how to set and spend your property and sales taxes, and, yes, even state and federal tax dollars. Yeah. It is your local politicians for the most part who are determining how to spend your COVID rescue dollars. Whoa!
Let us say this again. The May election is important.
Tennessee is showing a welcome trend, albeit one with far to go for real improvement. Traditionally, Tennessee is at the bottom in the nation for voter turnout. Even in presidential election years, we've hovered in the 60% ranges of voter turnout since 1996. In 2020 — the year when the "most voters ever" voted — Volunteer State voters hit a record: 68.6% of registered voters showing up. Locally, too, we were part of the surge. Almost 73% of registered Hamilton County voters made their voices heard.
Still, it's elections like this one — mostly local and most impactful — when we all too often just sleep in. Don't let that happen again this year.
And it may be that we're on a roll. In Hamilton County, we've added about 7,500 new registered voters since the last election on Sept. 14, 2021, according to Nathan Foster, Hamilton's assistant administrator of elections.
There have been purges, too: 2,658 voter records were stricken from the rolls in that time, largely due to deaths or notifications that voters had moved out of our county, Foster said.
But let's get back to why this May 3 primary election is important.
We'll use Hamilton County as our example. But your votes are no less impactful no matter what county you call home.
Hamilton County voters have nine judgeships on the ballot (three of which — a (nonpartisan) Chattanooga city judge seat, a Hamilton County Circuit Court seat and a Hamilton County Criminal Court judgeship — are contested).
Let's not forget the very hot and raucous Hamilton County District Attorney's seat. This is the top law enforcement office in the county, you know.
Also key on Hamilton's ballot is the contested county mayor's seat. Additionally, there are 11 county commission seats, seven of which have 19 candidates going head to head.
And what about that all-important school board? Seven of 11 Hamilton County school board seats are up for election this year, the first year in which these contests are partisan.
In our biggest races — county mayor, DA, three county commission seats and six school board seats — both Republicans and Democrats are vying for votes. County voters can put their thumbs on all of this — if we will.
So what to do? First up, make sure you're registered. As we noted, you've precious little time.
Voters can register in person until 4 p.m. Monday at the Hamilton County Election Commission office at 700 River Terminal Road (off Amnicola Highway) in Chattanooga. Or you can register online at govotetn.gov until 11:59:59 p.m. Monday.
One important note here — if you're a first-time Tennessee voter and you think you might need to vote by absentee, you must register in person so officials can see your photo ID at least once before you apply for that mail-in ballot. That said, be sure to bring your photo ID, issued by the State of Tennessee or the federal government. See more at your county's election commission website which, again, you can find at govotetn.gov.
Second, make sure you know if and how this past year's redistricting process might have changed your voting opportunities and polling places.
Foster says Hamilton County notices went into the mail Wednesday to all active voters, explaining new districts and polling places. Voters also can use the voter look-up tool linked on the front page of the Hamilton County Election Commission website: elect.hamiltontn.gov. There's another one on the state comptroller's website: govotetn.gov.
The front page of the Hamilton County Election Commission's website also gives you links to see sample ballots, early voting locations and times, election day polling places and a portal to apply for absentee ballots. It and other election commissions also have a presence on both Facebook and Twitter.
Don't be intimidated.
Get registered. Double check your registration. Have a say. Vote.