Election Commission Trims City Early Voting Sites From The Requested 5 To 3

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Hamilton County Election Commission on Wednesday morning trimmed the city of Chattanooga's five requested early voting sites down to three.

The City Council had asked for the traditional three sites (Northgate, Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center and the election office), plus the Glenwood Youth and Family Development Center and the South Chattanooga Youth and Family Development Center.

The three Republican members of the panel said with three the city is getting one more than the law allows (the election office plus one more).

Chairman Mike Walden said the city had not provided any data on why other early voting sites were needed. He also said the request came too late.

He said, "For elected officials to want to decide where early voting sites go in their districts, to me is fundamentally wrong. Under the law, that is up to the Election Commission.

"This goes against long-standing principles of where there should be early voting sites."

Kelvin Scott, a Democratic member of the commission, argued in favor of the extra sites. He cited long lines at the polls in November.

Jerry Summers, the other Democrat on the panel, was absent.

Kerry Steelman, election administrator, said the overall turnout for the presidential balloting in November was more than 70 percent countywide and over 60 percent in the city.

But he said the turnout was about 17 percent in city elections in 2009 and 2013.

Commissioner Chris Clem said if the city would move its election in line with other voting "they could increase their turnout by five times and save money."

The upcoming election will cost the city $192,000. It would have been $222,000 with the three extra sites.

Ruth Braly started the discussion, saying that three strategically-located early voting sites had already been provided "and on election day we have voting sites in every precinct."

She said, "I think we have done more than enough. I don't see the need to have any more early voting sites."

Commissioner Scott said council members and pastors were among those complaining about long lines in November.

He said he would like to see more than five early voting sites, saying Soddy Daisy needs one because its residents "have to drive 20 to 30 miles to vote."

Commissioner Scott said the Bethlehem Center would be preferable to the South Chattanooga center. However, Mr. Steelman said South Chattanooga had a much better setup.

He said adding the requested sites would have been beneficial to many potential voters. He said, "You have people who stay on a certain side of town and they can't get to Amnicola. They can't get to Brainerd." 

Early voting starts Feb. 15 for the city mayor and City Council races.

 


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