Big turnout for early voting

Cynthia Ferguson, Loudon County Election Commission worker, right, helps Wanda Ritchey with early voting Thursday at the county office building.

A Loudon County record was broken for absentee voting in the August state and federal primary and county general election.

Election day is Thursday, but 7,906 ballots have already been cast in early voting that ended Saturday, Susan Harrison, Loudon County Election Commission administrator, said.

“We had a great turnout considering the COVID virus and all the concern about being in crowds and in public,” Harrison said in an email correspondence. “We are very appreciative to the workers who gave of their time and actually put their health at risk as well as their families’ health at risk. We look forward to everyone voting on election day. As of (Monday), 21.49 percent of voters have cast their ballot.”

The county fell slightly short of 2018’s record 7,940 early voters but “still have a few hundred absentee ballots that will probably make us surpass” that figure.

Absentee voting beat the previous high of 321 from August 2018, Harrison said. As of Monday, 1,774 ballots had been returned. Voters have until election day to turn in absentee ballots, she said.

Harrison said this election has put more demand on her department.

“At least a couple of more employees just to handle the volume of extra work,” she said. “Then we’ve added an extra counting board to help process on election day because we didn’t know, of course, how many we were going to get, but still you’ve got to have enough manpower to try to get it done quickly.”

The local election includes three contested seats on Loudon County Board of Education. Loudon County Property Assessor Mike Campbell and Loudon County Circuit Court Clerk Steve Harrelson are running unopposed.

“Be prepared to practice social distancing,” Harrison said. “Please keep your 6 foot distance from your fellow voter. Be respectful of their area. When you’re asked to use hand sanitizer and gloves, it’s for your protection as well as the fellow voter because if you don’t use it then we will probably go behind you and have to sanitize. It’s just a win-win for everybody if you’ll do your part. Mask is not mandatory but we appreciate it because you don’t know where the person standing in front of you or behind you has been and who they’ve been exposed to.”

Those who missed out on absentee voting for the August election can begin applying Wednesday for the November presidential election.

“So our phones will be ringing off the hook for sure that day,” Harrison said. “The deadline will be Oct. 27 for that election. We encourage them to do it sooner than later so that if we do expect a high volume again, higher than this one, that will give us time to get them processed quickly.”

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“We’ve had a wonderful turnout, actually,” Derek Hawkins, election commission worker, said Thursday. “I’ve been actually surprised that the general election, usually we don’t have such a big turnout as we do for the presidential, but we’ve been running close to 120 a day at (the county office building).”

Cynthia Ferguson, election commission worker, said turnout had been “steady.”

“Of course, we make sure everybody’s hands are sanitized and then they have to wear the rubber gloves,” she said.