HUNTSVILLE — Election day is still three weeks away, but voters can begin casting ballots tomorrow (Friday). And if recent history holds — there’s no compelling reason to think it won’t — a majority of those who participate in the upcoming election will register their vote between now and July 28.
Since Tennessee implemented the two-week early voting period in 1994 to alleviate crowded precincts on election day, a growing number of voters have taken advantage of the opportunity. In 2014, the last major election cycle in Scott County, a record 457 voters cast ballots on the first day of early voting alone. That was up from 371 who voted on the first day of early voting in 2010, and 340 in 2006.
While the total number of registered voters in Scott County who cast early ballots has declined slightly for the past two election cycles, it remains likely that a majority of those who intend to participate in the Aug. 2 general election will vote ahead of that date.
In 2014, the number of voters who cast ballots in the two-week early voting period declined after that record-setting first day, and the final tally of voters who either appeared at voting locations in person or voted by absentee ballot ahead of election day was 4,291, down from 4,303 in 2010 and 4,534 in 2006.
In terms of percentages, however, the number of early voters has held steady in recent years. Total voter turnout in 2014 was 54 percent, and 60 percent of those voted early. In 2010, voter turnout was 52 percent, with 60 percent voting early.
With roughly four in 10 voters still choosing to wait until election day to cast ballots, Aug. 2 will loom large on the calendar for candidates, with nothing decided once early voting has ended on July 28. But with a slim majority of likely voters heading to the polls over the next two weeks, can likewise ill afford to ignore the early voting period, which is reflected by the uptick in campaigning that has taken place in recent weeks.
Voters can cast ballots at either the Oneida Municipal Services Building or at the Scott County Office Building in Huntsville during the early voting period. Both voting locations will be open eight hours tomorrow, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday’s voting hours will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
While there are contested races for sheriff and road superintendent, it is the three most crowded races that have generated the most interest: county mayor, register of deeds and county clerk. Two of those offices — register and clerk — have generated interest among candidates and voters alike due to the retirement of long-time incumbents Benjie Rector and Pat Phillips, while first-term incumbent Dale Perdue is battling for a second four-year stint in the mayor’s office.
Perdue is being opposed by four other men — former mayor Jeff Tibbals, whom he defeated in 2014, career Army veteran Michael Lloyd, Oneida businessman Harold Brooks and current 4th District County Commissioner Rick Russ.
In the register’s office, five people are vying to replace Rector: Ashley Newport Riseden, a current employee of the office, former Verizon store manager and current Samsung regional representative Stuart Jones, Oneida businessman Kevin Bilbrey, Mary Duncan Hall, a former employee of the office, and Scott County Ambulance Service employee Chris Wilson.
There are six people seeking to replace Phillips in the clerk’s office. Among them is her niece, Felicia Hamby Bilbrey, along with Christin Kidd Neal, a past employee of the office, Sandi Carson Chambers, who has been a long-time government employee in various capacities, long-time Scott County Health Department employee Pat Massengale, Oneida Sonic Drive-In manager Peggy Duncan and Oneida businessman Mark Matthews.
In another race featuring a retiring incumbent, long-time road department supervisor Kelvin King is seeking to replace his outgoing boss, Dick Sexton, while being challenged by Oneida contractor Dale Boyatt, who narrowly lost to Sexton in the 2014 election.
On the ballot, there will be no opposition in the race for sheriff. Incumbent Ronnie Phillips will be alone on the ballot, seeking re-election to the office he captured with 80 percent of the vote in 2014. But former sheriff Anthony Lay, who was elected in 2006 and resigned in 2010 to accept a position with the U.S. Marshal Service, is mounting a write-in campaign after missing the deadline to appear on the ballot.
Other county-wide office-holders, including Trustee Jimmy D. Byrd, Circuit Court Clerk Donnie Phillips and County Attorney John Beaty, are unopposed in their re-election bids.
Additionally, voters will select county commissioners in each of Scott County’s seven civil districts, while voters of the 1st, 4th, 5th and 7th districts will select a school board member. There are three seats up for grabs on the Oneida Special School District Board of Education as well.