Surge in voter registrations in full swing in Sullivan County

J. H. Osborne • Sep 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — There’s usually a surge in voter registration prior to each presidential election, and one is in full swing locally, Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Gena Frye said last week.

The last day to register — if you’re not already registered — and be eligible to participate in the Nov. 4 presidential election is Oct. 6, Frye said.

“We’ve noticed a large increase in the number of voter registrations,” Frye said. “We’ve had more walk-in visits to the election office. And we’ve had more people calling to ask questions about how to register, and how to request an absentee ballot.”

The last day to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 28.

The upswing of county residents seeking to register in time for the presidential election began earlier this year, Frye said.

Since June 1, more than 4,300 voter registrations have been processed by election office staff, Frye said.

“People seem to have been thinking about this a little earlier for this election,” Frye said. “There’s been a lot of attention this time around, starting with the more contested primaries in February — there’s been a lot of coverage. People are wanting to get registered and get everything lined up. People of all ages seem to be very interested in this election. There’s a real desire to participate in this election. I expect a large turnout.”

The number of new registrations picked up pace during the Democratic and Republican national conventions, Frye said.

As of close of business on Thursday, there were 87,561 registered voters in Sullivan County — up from 83,197 at the end of May.

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

•For the November 2006 mid-term election, there were 89,368 registered voters in Sullivan County. Of the 46,463 who voted in that election, 26,150 cast early ballots.

•For the November 2004 election — the nation’s most recent presidential election — there were 89,052 registered voters in Sullivan County. Of the 63,391 who voted in that election, 30,605 cast early ballots.

•For the presidential election prior to that — November 2000 — there were 86,274 registered voters in Sullivan County. Of the 56,422 who voted in that election, 17,654 cast early ballots.

Early voting begins in Sullivan County on Oct. 15 and ends Oct. 30.

Paper ballots will be used by all voters at all early voting locations, Frye said.

State law mandates that all counties use optical-scan voting systems, with paper ballots, no later than November 2010.

“We are doing this to introduce the voters to the system,” Frye said earlier this year. “The switch to optical scan is what is going to happen. The legislature passed this, and this is what we will be using as a voting system no later than 2010. So we’re just trying to get a jump on things and help the voters get adjusted to it. It’s mandatory by 2010.”

Frye said use of paper ballots — the system that was used during early voting for the elections in August — could make early voting a more speedy option than going to the polls on Election Day this time around.

“From what I’ve observed, people seem to be able to do the paper ballots a little quicker,” Frye said. “They seem a little more confident about what they’re doing, where with the voting machines it’s a piece of equipment that they don’t use very often. You’ll find with the presidential election, there are people who only vote every four years — so they will have never seen the electronic voting equipment we use now. That could slow things down somewhat on Election Day.”

Other things to consider: Early voting usually provides easier parking situations, and early voting hours have been expanded. The schedule is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

“We’re hoping that will add accessibility to voters,” Frye said.

More information about registration, early voting and the Nov. 4 election is available at www.scecweb.org.

You may register if you:

•Are a U.S. citizen.

•Will be at least 18 years of age by the next election.

•Are a legal resident of Sullivan County.

•Have not been convicted of a felony or have had your rights restored.

Anyone who registers by mail must vote in person the first time he or she votes after registering.

To be considered an in-person registration, you may hand-deliver the application to the election commission office. Two forms of identification will be required at that time.

The Sullivan County Election Commission is located at 3258 Highway 126, Suite 103, Blountville.

Voter registration applications are available at that office and the following locations:

• U.S. Post Offices.

• City halls.

• Public libraries.

• Tennessee Department of Safety offices.

• Department of Human Services offices.

• U.S. military recruiting offices.

• The Sullivan County Regional Health Department’s offices in Blountville and Kingsport.

• County clerks offices.

• County register of deeds offices.

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