More early votes cast for GOP candidates here

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

From staff reports

Hundreds of Marshall County residents have already voted in the March 6 Presidential primary and participation is up by nearly 14 percent, according to figures from the Election Commission office on College Street.

Early voting continues there through Feb. 28. Election office hours for early voting are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 25. The hotly contested GOP primary is between Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

As of noon Saturday, 235 people voted early in Marshall County with 192 casting ballots in the Republican primary and 43 voting in the Democratic primary.

After four similar days of early voting in 2008, there had been 206 ballots cast in the presidential primaries with 149 voting Democrat and 57 voting Republican.

That set of numbers implies a reversal in party affiliation.

"Republican voter turnout" is up 237 percent, according to figures from Marshall County Elections Administrator Tristan Arnold. "Democrat voter turnout" is down 71 percent as of Saturday.

Early voting in January 2008 topped out at 1,315 with 923 voters requesting a Democratic ballot for the presidential primary, and 392 preferring to vote in the Republican primary. Like other states, Tennessee holds an open primary, meaning registered voters can simply decide to vote in one primary or the other. That is the only official record of party affiliation.

Meanwhile, thousands of voter registration cards were mailed to Marshal County residents. It's in conjunction with redistricting of the county because of population growth reflected by the 2010 census.

But it's drawn varying degrees of complaints, or questions about the logic of sending a voter to a poll in Lewisburg when the voter lives at Chapel Hill.

Reapportionment is required by the Constitution so congressmen, and other government officials elected from districts or wards are representing approximately the same number of people. That has resulted in some districts having a geographic shape that has been criticized as unusual, or politically motivated.

For example, new district lines for a state House district prompted speculation and allegations about gerrymandering since all of Marshall County is in a district where the balance of the territory is parts of Lincoln, Franklin and Marion counties. The practice of drawing district lines for political advantage was described by the word gerrymandering, first published by the Boston Gazette in 1812 when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a bill to confer political advantage to his party. One district was said to look like a salamander. The Gazette ran a political cartoon drawn to show a mythical creature, the gerrymander.

While state House districts are drawn by a committee of the Tennessee Legislature, new district lines were drawn in Marshall County with the help of an employee of the University of Tennessee, Doug Bodary of the UT County Technical Assistance Service.

Residents of 22 households have approached or called the Marshall County Election Commission office, asking about the accuracy of their new voter registration card that tells them where they'd be voting on Election Day, Arnold said. All early voting is at the election office in Lewisburg.

Asked about how many calls had been received as of mid-morning Tuesday, Arnold replied, "We've got pages of them. We write it all down" on paper to keep track of who sought clarification.

"Mostly it's people who were in District 2 and have been moved to District 6," she said.

Those are residents of the Lewisburg area and Chapel Hill and nearby parts of the county. County Commissioners Sheldon Davis and Jon Christmas represent District 6. Commissioners Rocky Bowden and E.W. Hill represent District 2.

"We look up everybody who calls and all of them have been correct," Arnold said of the cards, addresses and assigned voting places. "A lot of people are upset about the prospect of having to drive from Chapel Hill to vote at West Hills Elementary School which is their polling place."

To help voters and others at the election office, she said, "We have a huge map on the wall. It's so big, we had to cut it in half " to post it on the wall.

"You almost do" need a ladder to look closely at some parts of the map.

Reapportionment "was done based on the census blocks," she said.

As for continued early voting, "It's slow this morning," Arnold said Tuesday. "We'll see the numbers increase toward the end of the week."