Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nashville sets early-vote record

Turnout is high, lines long in area counties By Jennifer Brooks • THE TENNESSEAN • October 16, 2008 Tennesseans flooded polling places across the state for the first day of early voting in the 2008 presidential election. Long lines snaked out the door at many polling places as voters waited their turn to vote. Nashville shattered all previous first-day turnout records, clocking some 16,710 votes on Wednesday. That was double the previous record set in 2004 when more than 8,000 voted on the first day. "This is my first time voting," said Micah Towry of Antioch, waiting in a line that snaked down the stacks at the Edmondson Pike Library. Like many voters, Towry read a book to pass the time during the 20-minute wait to vote. Towry said the economic crisis pushed him into the voting booth for the first time and pushed him to cast his first vote, which went to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. While Tennessee may be leaning red, Obama dominated the early voting scene. Crowds of volunteers waving Obama placards gathered outside many Middle Tennessee polling stations. Area polls stay busy Volunteers for both campaigns have put on aggressive pushes in Tennessee to register new voters and get them out to cast their ballots early. "There have been plenty of (John) McCain voters, but no McCain campaigners," said Marie McEntire, a member of the Democratic Women of Williamson County. She held an Obama sign outside the Williamson County Administrative Complex. By mid-morning, the line to get into the polling station was more than 50 people long. By late afternoon, the main polling station in Franklin reported 3,672 voters, with three hours of voting still to go. In Wilson County, election administrator Lynn Harris said poll workers had been so busy with the flood of early voters, they hadn't had time to count the votes yet. The state election commission will begin publishing daily early voting tallies later today. There were a lot of first-time voters in line on Wednesday, including E'Tasha Keeton, an 18-year-old freshman at Fisk University. "I think we're really in need of a change," said Keeton, who urged other young voters to "just vote. This time we can make a difference." Register for the first time Of the nearly 4 million registered voters in Tennessee, more than 360,000 — or 9 percent — have registered for the first time. As many as 300,000 Tennesseans registered to vote in the months leading up to the election, almost as many as in the record-breaking 2004 election, when 2.4 million Tennesseans turned out to the polls. Davidson County alone registered 49,000 new voters, according to county Election Administrator Ray Barrett. "This has been steady, all day long. There was a line when we opened the doors at 7 a.m.," Barrett said. In 2004, about 45 percent of the votes cast in the presidential election were cast during early voting. The early voting totals are expected to rise this year, Barrett said. Early voting continues through Oct. 30. For voters who have moved within the county recently, early voting is also the simplest way to vote and register their change of address. Election officials are bracing for another big turnout today, after voters have had a chance to take in Wednesday night's presidential debate. The historic nature of the election seems to be energizing voters enough to shrug off the slight inconvenience of a wait in line at the polling place. Nashville voter Brenda McKinney waited in line at the Edmondson Pike Library, then headed to Nashville to bring her uncle in to vote at election commission headquarters in the old Howard School building. "I'm feeling really good," she said. "I think my guy is going to win."

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