Rising in the East 

Is huge early vote in Knox County bad news for Gore?

Is huge early vote in Knox County bad news for Gore?

This week, during the final days of Election 2000, political observers following statewide developments in the presidential race are taking a long, inquisitive look at the GOP stronghold of Knox County. With about 170,000 fewer people than Davidson County, Knox County has nevertheless surpassed Nashville in early voting numbers.

There’s not a lot of complexity to that analysis, and there doesn’t need to be. The fact that a smaller Republican county is turning out more voters than a larger, mostly Democratic county appears, quite simply, to be good news for Republican George W. Bush. It’s probably no coincidence that candidate Al Gore has just announced plans for a Friday swing through the east end of the state.

Through Monday, 49,620 of Knox County’s 223,000 registered voters (or 22 percent of voters there) had already cast their ballots. Here, where there are 321,000 registered voters, 44,694 (or 13.9 percent) had voted. In Shelby County, meanwhile, which has the most registered voters of the state’s 95 counties at 536,000, 92,015 people (or 17 percent of voters) had already cast their ballots through Monday.

Closer to home, the analysis grows murkier. GOP optimists might, at first glance, find something to cheer about in the fact that, through Monday, about one-fourth of Nashville’s early voters, or about 11,000, had cast their ballots at Belle Meade City Hall, a decidedly GOP haunt during presidential elections.

But wait a minute. “Belle Meade always has the largest early voting numbers in Davidson County,” says at-large Metro Council member Chris Ferrell. That’s because it draws from a larger segment of the city than, say, Looby Library, which gets the fewest early voters because it draws from fewer Council districts. “You go back and look at every election and Belle Meade always draws the most voters,” Ferrell says.

If Belle Meade had a high turnout and there was a low turnout everywhere else, that would be bad news for Democrats, Ferrell says. But as it is, “the turnout is really fairly heavy everywhere, and that’s indicative that there’s a lot of excitement about the election.”

In fact, Michael McDonald, administrator of elections for Davidson County, predicts 250,000 or more Nashvillians will vote, which would surpass the record turnout set here during the 1976 presidential election between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. In that election, 77 percent of registered voters turned out to elect the peanut farmer with a slow, Southern drawl.

McDonald, who has been the election administrator since 1993, says he personally hasn’t seen this kind of voter interest since Nashvillians were divided over pro sports. “The last time we saw this flurry of activity was the stadium referendum,” he says.

In any case, with three days of early voting left, the Gore/Bush nail-biter has already inspired an early-voting record for the state of Tennessee. More than 450,000 have already voted statewide, which far surpasses the previous early-voting record of 399,000 set during the 1996 presidential race.

State Election Coordinator Brook Thompson predicts the total voting through election day also will set a record for Tennessee. He’s guessing that about 2.2 million of the state’s 3.1 million registered voters will make it to the polls, meaning, he says, that “we’ll blow past” the standing record of 2 million.

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