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Early voting is underway for Tennessee Republican and Democratic Party members to choose their candidates for the Nov. 3 general election.

We strongly encourage you to vote. Primaries typically have lower turnout, but the ability to cast a secret ballot is our fundamental right, and we applaud those who exercise it. Then too, you help pay for primary elections and should get something for your money. As well, some counties tie their general election to the primary, and if you reside in Sullivan County, there are a number of seats you should help decide.

If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool party member, you might ask why your tax dollars are being used for the opposing party to select its candidates for state and federal office. Shouldn’t each political party develop and pay for its own process to determine its candidates?

Many states, including Tennessee, have an open primary process, which means that you can vote in the other party’s primary — which you might do, for instance, to help nominate a weaker candidate to face your party’s nominee in the general election. And a system dominated by the two major parties freezes out smaller political parties such as the Libertarian, Green and Constitution parties.

But for now, it’s what we’ve got, and in the primary election Aug. 6 voters will determine party candidates for the general election Nov. 3 for such offices as U.S. and Tennessee House and Senate. In Sullivan County, voters will also cast ballots for all 24 county constables, seats on the county school board for Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7, assessor of property, and judicial retention for the Court of Appeals, Western Division. There’s also a vacancy election for a public defender, and for a county commissioner in District 11.

Both parties have crowded ballots.

Democratic voters in Sullivan County have five choices for U.S. Senate to replace the retiring Lamar Alexander and three for the 1st Congressional District seat being vacated by Phil Roe. There are no contested races for the state legislature but many contested seats for the school board and constable races.

Republican voters have a huge ballot with 15 candidates for the U.S. Senate seat and 16 for Rep. Roe’s seat, along with competing school board and constable races.

The primary for the U.S. House seat is heavily contested because Republicans have held it for 139 years. The last Democrat to hold it was Robert L. Taylor from 1879 to 1881.

Your vote is important, and you should not take any election for granted. Your vote is your voice in the process which governs our country, and you should make yourself heard. Early voting locations for Sullivan County are the Election Commission office at 3258 Highway 126 in Blountville; the Civic Auditorium at 1550 Fort Henry Drive in Kingsport; and Slater Community Center at 325 McDowell St. in Bristol. The hours for early voting at all three locations are 9 a.m to 4 p.m. July 27-31, and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Aug. 1.

Be sure to wear a mask and maintain social distancing.

All poll officials will be wearing face coverings and are trained in social distancing protocols.