The polls opened Wednesday for early voting in the Knoxville City Council primaries. The early voting period runs through September 19, but almost every primary race was already settled before counting a single vote.
"The top two candidates in each district will advance. Of course, in three of these five races there is only one candidate on the ballot," said Cliff Rodgers, Administrator of Elections in Knox County.
Districts 1, 2, and 3 are all uncontested. District 6 has two candidates on the primary ballot, so both of them make it through to November's election.
District 4 also only lists two candidates on the ballot. The incumbent Nick Della Volpe's name appears with challenger Rick Staples. However, there is actually a third certified write-in candidate.
"His name is Carl Lansden. Back in June he did not have enough signatures to be on the ballot, but indicated he would likely try to get the paperwork done in time to become a certified write-in candidate. He did complete that paperwork in a timely manner and is certified," said Rodgers.
Lansden faces the tough task of getting enough people to manually enter his name as a write-in candidate to overtake Della Volpe or Staples. Lansden may need fewer write-ins than normal due to an expectation of very low voter turnout.
With only one primary race truly impacts the November election, Rodgers said he is trying to reduce the expense of opening and staffing five different early-voting locations.
"The city budgeted $245,000 for the primary and regular election. The city is paying for this election. We have tried to cut down on the number of workers at each place, but we will gauge that as we progress. We try to staff more people on the first and last days of early voting. Again, we also cut down on the number of early-voting locations," said Rodgers.
The money spent on early voting for uncontested primaries raises an old argument about why Knoxville does not hold some of its elections at the same time as state and federal elections. Rodgers said he has no part in deciding when elections are held, but he was willing to recap the debate.
"Holding your city primaries with the other elections saves money on the one hand. We all get that. On the other hand, candidates who get elected during low-turnout elections like this one will tell you if they are on the ballot next August when we've got 55 other offices being voted on, then they have to get out and spend a lot of more money to get their name out to all of the people voting in those other races. That is what they will probably tell you is why they want to keep it in the off-years. But that's a decision city council would have to make about when they hold their elections," said Rodgers. "I've heard both sides and understand both sides, but right now this is when we hold the election."
New ID Rules
Rodgers reminded voters they must have a photo ID that is issued by the state of Tennessee or the federal government. Out-of-state photo identification is no longer permitted as it was in past years.
Rodgers also said there is some benefit to early-voting because the September 24 primary election day will have fewer polling locations.
"A lot of people are used to voting at schools, but school will not be out on primary election day September 24. So it might be in your best interest to vote early because you can do that at any of the early-voting poll locations," said Rodgers.
The full list of voting locations, hours, and sample ballots can be viewed at the Knox County Election Commission homepage.