Tennessee Expects to Break Early Voting Record By Thursday
Tennessee election officials are hoping to break another record when the early voting period ends on Thursday, but they acknowledge remnants of superstorm Sandy could affect voter turnout in the northeastern part of the state.
As of Tuesday, more than 1.2 million voters had cast their ballots since the start of early voting on Oct. 17 for the Nov. 6 presidential election. In November 2008, there were about 1.5 million early voters in Tennessee.
However, wintry weather spinning off the edge of Sandy caused snowfall in several East Tennessee counties on Tuesday, including up to 22 inches in the higher elevations of Sevier County and 17 inches on the mountaintops of Carter County.
Meteorologists predicted the snow would taper off early Wednesday, but low temperatures meant slow melting for that on the ground, which could cause voters to stay inside.
"Of course you can't really predict the weather," said state elections coordinator Mark Goins. "They've had some rough weather in parts of East Tennessee recently."
Overall, Goins said, voter turnout has been strong this early voting cycle, and the state could set another record.
"It really comes down to whether East Tennessee hurts us," he said.
Goins said the unpredictability of the weather is one reason for voters to cast their ballots early, because who knows what the weather is going to be like on Election Day next Tuesday.
"If you've got good weather ... I encourage you to go out there and vote, because you never know what's going to happen on Election Day," he said.
The record numbers indicate more Tennesseans are taking advantage of the early voting period.
Amy Davis of Nashville voted Tuesday. The 51-year-old said she enjoys being able to vote days in advance because the work she does requires her to travel, which means she could be out of town on Election Day.
"I wanted to make sure I got my vote in," said Davis, who does animation and special effects for television and film. "If I travel, I can't vote."
Goins said early voting is also beneficial to poll workers. For instance, he said if a voter needs to change his or her address, "we can handle it a lot better than being slammed on Election Day."
"When these people are doing a change of address on the spot, it can create long lines," Goins said. "So administratively, it's a lot better to spread the voters out."
Becky Lynn Street, 28, voted at a polling station in downtown Nashville on Tuesday and said the process went smoothly.
"It's a convenience," said Street, a self-employed publicist. "Everyone seems to benefit."
Last year, lawmakers passed Republican-backed legislation to make changes to the early voting process.
One bill trimmed two days off of early voting in presidential primaries and the other allowed municipalities with fewer than 500,000 people to forgo early voting in uncontested elections.
"It's common sense and good government at work," Goins said of the bills.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said he understands shortening the early voting days, but said he'd like to see longer polling hours and more satellite locations, particularly in rural areas.
"There should be consistency," Kyle said. "Some counties have embraced early voting, other counties have made it harder. But it's clear that people like early voting because they are voting early."