Early voting starts today in Tennessee

Early voting starts today in Tennessee

July 15th, 2016 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Primary voters in 2012 gather around a voting booth in Peoria, Ill.

Photo by David Zalaznik

POLL: Will you vote early?



Hamilton County Early Voting Hours/Locations*

^ Brainerd Rec Center

1010 North Moore Road

Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

^ Eastwood Baptist Church

4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road

Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m-6 p.m.

^ North River Civic Center

1009 Executive Drive, Suite 102

Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

^ Election Commission Office

700 River Terminal Road

Monday-Friday: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.

Saturday: 9 a.m-6 p.m.

NASHVILLE — Early voting kicks off today in Tennessee's Aug. 4 party primary and local general elections.

And if history is any guide, 40 percent of the vote in Hamilton County and half or more of all votes statewide may be cast during the two-week period that ends July 30.

The ballot includes three Tennessee Supreme Court justices who are up for yes/no retention votes, along with seven state appellate judges. There are general elections for county school boards and property assessors, plus Republican and Democratic primaries for the entire state House, half of the state Senate and Congress.

Three of the contested legislative primaries are in Hamilton County.

Edward Carter votes in the Super Tuesday primary election at the Bethlehem Center polling site in Chattanooga on March 1, 2016.

Edward Carter votes in the Super Tuesday primary...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Also on the ballot is a Hamilton County Criminal Court judge position, in which Republican Tom Greenholtz is unopposed, and Lookout Mountain contests for commission, judge and town school board.

But for the first time since 2004, there's no gubernatorial or U.S. Senate primary. Those offices are not up this year. And that has some thinking Tennessee could see a lower overall turnout this summer.

"It's a tough one to predict really because we know there's a lot of interest, but frankly most of the calls we get are not about August, they're about November," said State Election Coordinator Mark Goins. He noted Tennessee had a record turnout in the March 1 presidential primary.

"So the interest is high. But there's not a statewide office other than the judges" to drive turnout, Goins said.

Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said that since 2006, about 50,000 voters, or 25 percent of registered voters, turn out for August primary elections. In August 2104, early votes comprised 40.11 percent of the ballots, he said.

"With the exception of a few heated congressional primaries in 2010 and 2012, enthusiasm for the August State Primary/County General Election is relatively moderate," Steelman said in an email. "On the local level there has been some interest generated by the school board races as well as the assessor of property; however, much of the attention still remains on November."

Congress races mostly calm

Congressional races can draw voters. But this year, only a third of Tennessee's nine congress members are seen as having any serious primary contests.

The 3rd Congressional District, now held by Republican Chuck Fleischmann, is not seen as one of them. The Ooltewah congressman, seeking a fourth term, is running against two little-known Republicans in the GOP primary, including one who lives in Georgia. Three equally little-known Democrats have their own primary race.

But Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais faces a spirited contest with challenger Grant Starrett in the 4th Congressional District, which stretches from Cleveland to Murfreesboro.

Voters enter Concord Baptist Church in East Brainerd to make their presidential preference primary selection on Super Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

Voters enter Concord Baptist Church in East Brainerd...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black has an increasingly rancorous GOP primary fight with former state Rep. Joe Carr in the 6th Congressional District, which abuts Nashville. And the 8th Congressional District in rural West Tennessee is open, drawing a multicandidate GOP field.

"Those races will draw people out," said Kent Syler, an assistant professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University who used to manage congressional campaigns. In districts like the 3rd, where Fleischmann is seen as fairly secure, local contests will be the focus and voter turnout likely not as high, Syler said.

But Steelman said other Hamilton County contests may ignite voters' interest.

In state Senate District 10, Nick Wilkinson, Khristy Wilkinson (unrelated) and Ty O'Grady are squaring off in the Democratic primary for the right to take on Republican incumbent Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, who is unopposed in the GOP primary.

Over in House District 28, incumbent Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, faces Dennis Clark in the Democratic primary.

And in House District 29, Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, has a GOP primary challenge from Ethan White, a Collegedale city commissioner.

The Hamilton County Assessor of Property race between Democrat Mark Siedlecki and Republican Marty Haynes has been dominated by a proposal over a property tax freeze for seniors.

Four nonpartisan Hamilton County school board races are hot as well.

In District 1, incumbent Rhonda Thurman faces Jason Moses and Patti Skates. In District 2, incumbent Jonathan Welch faces Kathy Lennon. Challengers Montrell Besley and Tiffanie Robinson are running against incumbent George Ricks in District 4 and in District 7 incumbent Donna Horn faces Joe Wingate.

Syler said early voting has accelerated campaign activity and prompted candidates to get moving with direct mail and television advertising much earlier.

In the past, candidates' push for voter attention and support was targeted to peak on Election Day.

Now, he said, "you've got to make sure you're communicating with those voters before that. Really, rather than one Election Day, you have 16 now."

Kendi Anderson and Paul Leach contributed to this report. Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on twitter at AndySher1.