Photo by Steve Barnum/ Staff Writer
Story by Barbara Harmon/ Contributing Writer
The Presidential election of 2016 has seen a larger period of partisan controversy than many other political seasons, and, in Tennessee, it will be remembered for setting new records in early voting.
Polls for early voting closed Thursday with a total of 1.61 million ballots cast, a new record for the state. The previous record, 1.52 million, was set in 2008 when President Barack Obama was elected to his first term. In 2012, 1.41 million voters came to the polls early.
For Jordan Fitzgerald of Nashville, a senior at Middle Tennessee State University, there was no doubt he was going to vote before the Nov. 8 election day.
“I wanted to get it out of the way. I already had my candidate chosen; it was an easy choice. Everybody knows our country is kind of in a time right now,” Fitzgerald said.
The ratio of early voting participants has increased from one in five to four out of 10 since early voting was allowed more than two decades ago, explained Kent Syler, a professor in the department of political science and international relations.
Convenience plays a large role, Syler said.
“Since the early vote started, there has been a pretty clear trend of a larger number of voters taking advantage of it generally every year,” Syler said.
But the volatility of this year’s election cycle has also played a factor, according to Syler.
“This election has created a lot of interest, and there’s never been one like it in most people’s lifetimes. You absolutely never know what’s going to happen from one day to the next,” Syler said.
The high volume of early voters began accumulating on the first day of early voting, Oct. 19, and continued through Nov. 3. Only on two of the 14 days that early voting precincts were open did the statewide totals dip below the 100,000 mark. Those two days, oddly enough, were Saturdays.
County election commission offices in Middle Tennessee were very busy, with crowds lined up out the door on many occasions. In heavily populated Davidson and the suburb counties surrounding it, early voting accounted for more than 25 percent of the statewide total.
Davidson tallied 174,519 early voters while Rutherford had 79,073, Sumner, 45,735, Williamson, 83,311 and Wilson, 42,161.
Less populated Middle Tennessee counties also had record numbers of early voters this year. For instance, Franklin County attracted 9,594, Overton, 5,009, Giles, 6818, Hickman, 4,623 and Wayne, 3,080.
Syler said that the contentious nature of the Clinton-Trump campaigns will affect the outcome.
“Both candidates have more people who don’t like them than like them,” added Syler. “If this was a movie about an election, we wouldn’t go see it because we would think it was just too unrealistic.
“I think we are going to see a record number of voters who are not necessarily voting for a candidate, they are voting against a candidate,” he said. “That will be a challenge for whoever wins the election because they will have a large number of people who are just very unhappy that they won.”
Other MTSU students were also drawn to vote early.
Tosh Williams, a senior majoring in public relations, voted on Wednesday, the day before early voting ended.
“The only difference is that most of the time I enjoy the political season. This time I’m so over it: hate it, embarrassed, disgusted,” Williams said.
She said she is also disappointed in America’s use of the electoral college process.
“Theoretically, they should do what they are supposed to do and follow the popular vote. But, I still think that local politics…your vote counts, and I’m still willing to take the risk,” Williams said.
Some students took advantage of early voting while they were visiting their hometowns, in case they do not have a chance to vote on Nov. 8.
Samantha Goldman, a 19-year-old sophomore at MTSU, voted in Bledsoe County while on a visit home. Goldman said that having family members in the military impacted her reason for voting this year.
“I think that it is an interesting election. I wish there were different candidates but there’s not. It’s only four years,” said Goldman.
She encouraged her peers to cast a ballot. “Your vote does count. Don’t try and say, “Oh, I’m one person and it doesn’t matter.’ It does.”
“Your vote does count. Don’t try and say, “Oh, I’m one person and it doesn’t matter.’ It does.”