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Early voting turnout very strong in East TN, across the state

Fears about COVID-19 aren't discouraging thousands of people from going to the polls, data shows.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — One week into early voting, turnout has proved strong across East Tennessee and the rest of the state.

Fears about COVID-19 aren't discouraging tens of thousands of people from going to the polls, data shows.

In some counties, turnout is up 200, 300 and even 400 percent compared with the similar ballot in August 2016, figures from the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office show.

Absentee mail-ins, as expected, also are up, a reflection of concerns among some that they just don't want to be out and about amid the pandemic.

"It’s been very, very good," Knox County Elections Administrator Chris Davis said Friday. "The turnout has exceeded my expectations, and I hope it continues."

On Friday morning, for example, he said turnout at the Farragut polling place was "packed."

Knox County this month switched to a new, paper ballot process that will, at least at the start, take some voters more time than what they're used to.

Credit: WBIR
Early voting started Friday, July 17, in Knox County.

Davis is encouraging everyone to vote early to ensure overall tallying goes smoothly on election night, Aug. 6. About 14,000 people have asked for mail-in absentee ballots so far, which will have to be hand-counted, meaning vote-counting will take longer, Davis said.

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Locally, election commissions are seeing particularly busy activity in Loudon, Jefferson, Knox and Anderson counties.

In Knox County, as of Thursday, a total of 17,789 ballots had been cast already. That includes 14,088 turning out physically at the polls and 3,701 absentee mail-ins.

Of the total, 11,285 wanted a Republican ballot and 6,287 wanted a Democratic ballot.

The figures account for six days of voting.

The Secretary of State's Office currently has posted data for five days of early voting -- Wednesday. You can see it here.

Credit: WBIR
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge and Secretary of State Tre Hargett made the rounds Friday of area polling places.

For Knox County, it showed over five days a total of 14,970 votes cast compared with 3,937 in 2016. That's a jump of 280 percent.

Davis said early voting has been high regardless of virus concerns and weather. The area has seen storms and rain several days this week, a factor that sometimes can discourage people going out to a polling station.

Davis attributed the increase to overall voter awareness in the current political climate as well as the GOP Senate primary, several competitive state House primaries and some competitive Knox County general races.

Early voting continues through Saturday, Aug. 1. There are 10 area early voting centers.

Davis said some people have called the Election Commission ready to cast absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 presidential race. Those mail-in ballots are not being distributed yet.