As polls closed at 8 p.m., Hamilton County officials anticipated producing full local results Tuesday night, and lines were diminishing at polling places.
Just after 8, Kendall Godwin and mother Jenna Godwin, both of Ooltewah, were about halfway through one of the longest remaining lines at Ooltewah Seventh-Day Adventist Church after waiting for 40 minutes.
"It's moving fast," Kendall said, describing the line that snaked well into the parking lot when she got here. "I'm impressed."
"I am pleasantly surprised," Jenna added. "I didn't think I'd get home until 10:00."
When asked why they waited to vote until Election Day, Jenna said, "I'm a procrastinator."
Interim Hamilton County Administrator of Elections Scott Allen said that the county is well on its way to full election results.
"We've heard complaints about long lines and such, but that's the way it is always all across the country this election," Allen said late Tuesday. "It's just a heavily voted election, and there's going to be lines. But poll workers are doing the best job to move people through quickly as they can."
According to Allen, about an hour before polls closed, all but a dozen or so mail-in ballots recevied by the deadline — roughly 18,400 total — had already made it to the election commission and were being processed.
"They've been taken out of the envelopes and are being counted now," he said, noting there were only about 4,000 submitted in the county during the 2016 presidential election. "So that's about a 93 or 94% return rate on those requested, which is really, really positive. And we expect to have those counted around the time polls close."
Early voting numbers were also significantly higher.
"These record numbers demonstrate voter confidence in the hard work of election officials across the state. County election commissions across the state have worked diligently to administer a safe, sensible and responsible election during early voting and we will see the same thing on Election Day," Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said.
Mark Goins, coordinator of elections in Tennessee, commended election officials across the state for handling and counting the record number of ballots cast.
"We would not have seen the record numbers of Tennesseans voting early having a smooth voting experience without their hard work and planning," he said.
In Georgia, over 3.7 million votes were cast in early voting, far exceeding the 2.1 million total votes cast in the last presidential election in 2016.
"Georgia is a leader in election access," said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. "Notwithstanding the pandemic, voters in the Peach State can take advantage of no-excuse absentee ballot voting by mail or through a secure drop box; three weeks of early, in-person voting; or Election Day voting."
On Election Day, Allen said, Hamilton County did not experience nearly the same boom.
"That's about a 35% increase in early voting and absentee since 2016, and we weren't sure if that was going to translate larger or smaller crowds on Election Day, but it looks like it'll translate to about the same turnout we normally see for presidential elections, at least in the last few years," Allen said, predicting a small increase in Election Day voting. "Last I heard from our elections programmer, he was expecting about a 5% increase for election a turnout than what we saw in 2016, so that would put it in the mid 70 [thousands]."
Local Democratic and Republican voters alike expressed some concerns about the vote tally in the presidential contest.
Local voter survey
To assess voter opinions, the Times Free Press surveyed about 300 Hamilton County voters from across the county at all four early voting places last week and at 19 voting precincts selected to represent the entire county on election day Tuesday. Voters were questioned by staffers from the newspaper outside the polls about a variety of public policy issues. The results are expected to have an error rate of plus or minus 6% with a 95% confidence level. For some news stories, the results will be compared with a similar voter poll conducted in Hamilton County in the last presidential election in 2016 when 360 Hamilton County voters were surveyed by the Times Free Press.
Asked their confidence in the presidential results, only 13.2% of the respondents to a Times Free Press survey of voters said they were completely confident about the results. On a 10-point scale with zero being no confidence and 10 being complete confidence, a third of the respondents gave a 5 or less and the median score was about 7. The poll is based upon responses from 266 Hamilton County voters who were surveyed during early voting last week and at nearly 20 precincts across the county on Tuesday.
Chloe Hunter, an Alton Park voter, said she isn't fully confident in the election count and results because of all of the claims about voter suppression and vote fraud.
"You hear so much about people's vote not being counted or people being paid off in elections," she said. "All you can do is hope and pray that everything goes alright."
Dr. Barry Heywood, a retired physician and North Chattanooga voter who is supporting Trump, said he is confident in the vote count in Tennessee but not the way votes are counted in some other states.
"I think with all of the absentee balloting there has been a lot of people vote twice, especially in the northern states," he said.
Some Democratic voters said they hope they hope they will not be surprised again like in 2016 when polls showed Hillary Clinton leading but Trump ultimately won.
"I went to bed thinking that Hillary had won the election and I woke up the next day and Trump said he was going to be president," said Nick Roberson, an Alton Park voter who says he is worried about the vote count. "I hope it's different this time than it was four years ago."
But, according to Allen, Hamilton County is not expecting any massive delays or hurdles in this year's count.
"We've never seen as much attention, nationally especially, on elections," Allen said. "But I think, here, it went very smoothly considering everything that's going on in the country. And I think we had a great Election Day here, all things considered around the county."
Allen acknowledged concerns around the county's election commission — which recently fired its administrator of elections after a series of complaints by subordinates, just weeks before the election — but said that the staff has remained unchanged.
"I know we went through a leadership change here about a month ago, but the staff who actually ran the election — going through the ballot programming, the absentee ballot counting, the candidate petitions, all that stuff — is still the same," he said. "They've all been here a number of years, some of them have worked for four or five administrators, and they've always done a great job."
Business Editor Dave Flessner contributed to this story.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.