Voting steady, few problems on Election Day in Hamilton County

Voting steady, few problems on Election Day in Hamilton County

November 8th, 2016 by David Cobb in Politics Elections

Area residents wait in line to vote on Nov. 8, 2016, at the Hixson Fellowship Hall in Red Bank Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

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A record early voting turnout didn't do much to thin the Election Day crowds at voting precincts across Hamilton County on Tuesday.

"It's been steady," said James Berry, an election officer at Daisy Church of God on Dayton Pike. "This morning it was very heavy."

Berry and election officers at other precincts said voters were gathered at the doors before the polls officially opened at 8 a.m. because, in some cases, voters believed the polls opened at 7 a.m.

That's an issue election officials are accustomed to encountering in the Chattanooga area. Georgia polls open at 7 a.m., and Alabama polls are in a different time zone, both of which can create confusion for residents of the tri-state area.

"There's always that confusion, and it mainly stems from Georgia, because they share the same news," said Scott Allen, assistant administrator of elections for Hamilton County.

Overall, Allen said, Tuesday went smoothly in Hamilton County.

"It wasn't bad at all," he said just minutes after the polls closed. "You look at Twitter and online and see pictures of lines in North Carolina and other places and you realize it could be bad. But it was really a great day here for us."

Voting did begin with a headache for election officers at the Missionary Ridge fire hall on Sheridan Avenue.

Officials there said a voting machine malfunctioned in the morning, causing a delay in counting about 100 early ballots. A working machine was brought to the precinct later in the morning, and a steady crowd of voters still streamed through the facility just after 6 p.m.

Long lines were reported at a handful of precincts during peak hours, but Rachel Carleton's voting experience went smoothly.

"It was pretty anticlimactic," the 25-year-old said after casting her vote from the South Chattanooga Recreation Center around 5:45 p.m.

She said she planned to return home and watch the results on TV before returning to work today, where conversations for many likely will center on Tuesday night's results.

"There'll either be a sigh of relief or a lot of 'I can't believe this is happening.' And I think that's true with whoever wins," Carleton said. "Depending on what circles you're in, this one is so divisive that I think that'll be true for almost everyone."

Tents covered in campaign signs and campaigners for East Ridge City Council candidates littered the entrance to two precincts located inside East Ridge City Hall, creating a tailgate-like atmosphere as voters turned into the parking lot early in the evening.

East Ridge Precinct One officer Jackie Fulks said there had been a steady crowd through the facility all day. A stream of voters still trickled through as poll-closing time neared.

"It's been a good day," she said. "It's about to get real interesting."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.