Sullivan County expecting high voter turnout

J. H. Osborne • Feb 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Voter turnout could be heavy in Sullivan County on Tuesday if the number of ballots cast during the early voting period is any indication.

Both the Republican party and the Democratic party have presidential preference primaries across Tennessee on Tuesday.

Voters statewide, including in Sullivan County and other Northeast Tennessee counties, may vote in one primary or the other.

Early voting in Sullivan County was from Jan. 16 to Jan. 31 — and turnout was the highest ever for a February or March election date, in the years since early voting began.

But according to information on file with the Sullivan County Election Commission, an increase in early turnout doesn’t always translate into an equally higher overall vote: the percentage of voters who cast ballots early has grown in most every election over the years.

That aside, Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Gena Frye said interest in Tuesday’s races has been high, and seemed on an upswing during the last couple of days of early voting.

“Yesterday it was really, really crowded in all three early voting locations,” Frye said Friday. “This has probably been a record primary since we started doing early voting.”

Polls are open Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voting will continue to allow anyone in line to vote at 8 p.m. to cast a ballot.

Election officials urge all voters to be familiar with the ballot they plan to vote, and to bring some form of identification when coming to the polls.

“It may take a little longer on the Republican ballot,” Frye said. “A rough estimate is eight minutes or so.”

The Republican primary ballot is longer than the Democratic primary ballot because it includes nearly 100 delegate candidates.

But all voters wait in the same line — so no matter which party primary you’re participating in, there may be a wait.

Frye said election officials also want to remind people that at precincts located in schools, voters need to be aware school is in session Tuesday, so be mindful of students, buses and regular school-related traffic during school hours.

As of close of early voting on Thursday, more than 7,200 Sullivan County voters had cast early ballots, according to unofficial results supplied by Frye.

In 2004, for the parties’ last presidential primaries, the total vote in Sullivan County was about 7,900.

The unofficial results available Friday also showed:

•More than 6,600 of those early ballots were cast in person between Jan. 16 and Jan. 31.

•About 600 more voters had returned absentee ballots.

•Of the more than 7,200 early ballots case in Sullivan County, about 4,000 (or about 55.5 percent) were for the Republican primary and about 3,200 (or about 44.5 percent) were for the Democratic primary.

According to information on file with the Sullivan County Election Commission:

•In 2000, just more than 8,100 Sullivan County voters cast early ballots — including absentees — in one or the other presidential party primaries, with early voting accounting for 17.5 percent of the total vote.

•In 2004, the number of early votes, including absentees, cast in the parties’ presidential primaries dropped to just more than 7,900 in Sullivan County, accounting for 15 percent of the total vote.

•That dip to 15 percent in winter 2004 marks only the second instance of a decrease in early voting, as a percentage of total vote, in any election since early voting became an option in 1996.

•For example, for August election dates, early and absentee ballots — as a percentage of total votes cast — have been: in 1996, 10 percent; in 1998, 17 percent; in 2000, 19 percent; in 2002, 25 percent; in 2004, 32 percent; and in 2006, 44 percent.

•And, for November election dates, early and absentee ballots — as a percentage of total votes cast — have been: in 1996, 19 percent; in 1998, 20 percent; in 2000, 31 percent; in 2002, 29 percent; in 2004, 48 percent; and in 2006, 56 percent.

The only county office on a ballot Tuesday in Sullivan County 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.scecweb.org and www.state.tn.us/sos/election/.

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