In the first two days of early voting there are signs that turnout may be higher than normal in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. Early voting started on Friday and continued on Saturday, though the locations and schedule for the Saturday voting was limited in several counties. Additionally, some counties have only reported their Friday totals at this point.
Nevertheless, 30,262 votes have already been cast in the Republican Primary and 12,205 in the Democratic Primary. Early voting continues until July 28 with Election Day on August 2.
There were 668,039 total GOP Senate Primary votes cast in August 2014. That election featured a contested primary between Senator Lamar Alexander (331,705 votes) and Joe Carr (271,324). Alexander prevailed by a closer than expected 49-40% margin. A third Republican, Dr. George Flinn received a little over 34,000 total votes. That race may give guidance in predicting final turnout as we move through the early voting period.
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill expects the turnout to increase dramatically over the next few weeks.
“Not only do we have a hotly contested Republican Primary for Governor, in which we will see perhaps $10 million in spending in the next few weeks alone, but also a contested race for Governor on the Democratic side as well, though Karl Dean is expected to defeat Craig Fitzhugh by a significant margin,” Gill says. “We also have heavily contested Republican congressional primaries in the 2nd, 6th and 8th districts as well as several State House and Senate primaries in both parties. Finally, there are still pockets of contested general elections for county offices ranging from County Mayor, County Sheriff, and Commission races. We are looking at turnout being driven both top down as well as bottom up.”
Gill adds that he anticipates that the last week of early voting will be particularly heavy. “The schedule of our primary date in Tennessee hits as families are squeezing in a final vacation before school starts, so not only will late deciders wait until the end of July but we will also see people who will be out of town on August 2 getting their vote in early.”
In recent years, the split of total votes during the early voting period and Election Day has been a pretty even in many cases. Political observers will be watching the numbers closely over the next two weeks as they seek to discern whether their turnout models are tracking or not.