Election officials urge residents to cast early ballot

J. H. Osborne • Jan 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Wintry weather the last few days has emphasized why local election officials have urged all voters who can to early or absentee vote, Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Gena Frye said Friday.

“The snow we had Thursday morning is an example of what we could wake up to Feb. 5,” Frye said. “We continue to encourage voters to vote early because of the potential for inclement weather.”

In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the election office is closed Monday. Early voting will resume Tuesday at the Blountville location. Satellite locations in Kingsport and Bristol open Friday.

In Sullivan County, nearly 84,000 voters are eligible to cast ballots in either the Republican primary or Democratic primary, both on Feb. 5, staff in Frye’s office said.

As of poll closing Saturday, a total of 308 voters had cast early ballots, in person, since early voting began four days earlier.

Absentee ballots that have come in to date, however, bring the total number of early ballots cast to more than 450, according to unofficial numbers provided by Frye:

•As of Friday afternoon, a total of 451 early ballots had been recorded as cast, including 264 cast in person at the sole early voting location available Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

•187 absentee ballots had been recorded.

•In all, election officials have supplied absentee ballots to nearly 800 voters who applied for them. The 187 figure is how many have been voted and returned.

•As of Friday afternoon, more ballots had been cast for the Democratic ballot than the Republican ballot.

Before early voting began, election officials across the state voiced concerns that the Republican ballot — which includes not only candidates for the party’s nomination for president, but also nearly 100 potential delegates for various candidates — would require more time for some voters.

Frye said it hasn’t been an issue, yet, locally — at least based on feedback from those who’ve cast ballots so far.

In-person early voting began Wednesday, with 117 voters casting ballots. On Thursday it snowed, and turnout dropped to 56. The numbers rebounded somewhat Friday, with 91 voters casting ballots. On Saturday, with early voting available only half a day, 44 ballots were cast.

Early voting locations for Sullivan County voters are the same three sites used for elections earlier this year: the county’s election offices in Blountville (continues Tuesday) the Kingsport Civic Auditorium (beginning Jan. 25); and the YWCA in Bristol (beginning Jan. 25).

Local election officials have attempted in recent weeks to raise public awareness of absentee voting options (if you’re over 65, you can request an absentee ballot without any further explanation — last day to apply is Jan. 29).

Frye said going in to the early voting period that interest in the primaries seems higher this year than four years ago, but that’s not surprising because in 2004 President George W. Bush was unopposed on the Republican ballot.

In 2004, fewer than 8,000 voters turned out, total, for the presidential primaries, Frye said.

The only county office on the Feb. 5 ballot is property assessor.

Incumbent Bobby Icenhour filed to seek re-election as the Republican Party’s nominee. He is the only candidate on the ballot, facing no challengers from within his own party and no independent or Democratic candidates.

County voters will elect a property assessor in August.

For more information visit www.sullivancountyelections.org and www.state.tn.us/sos/election/.

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