Early voting ends Tuesday, ballots down 10 pct

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tuesday is the last day for early voting for Tennessee's March 6 presidential primary.

More than 121,500 people had voted through the weekend, with about 80 percent of ballots cast in the hotly contested Republican primary. But without a contested Democratic primary, overall participation has been down 10 percent from the same point in 2008.

Republican voting has been highest in Knox County with more than 6,400 votes cast, followed by Hamilton, Rutherford and Shelby counties. Nashville's 1,684 Republican votes ranked 15th in the state, despite being located in Tennessee's second-largest county.

Six counties -- Hancock, Moore, Lake, Perry, Van Buren and Clay -- had registered fewer than 100 votes in the GOP primary.

A lower early voting turnout doesn't preclude heavy voting on Super Tuesday, said state Republican Party Executive Director Adam Nickas.

"Less than 30 percent of the overall vote occurred during early voting in the 2008 primary," he said.

Neither party's eventual nominee won the presidential primary in Tennessee in 2008, when Republicans gave the nod to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Democrats voted to nominate Hillary Clinton.

Among this year's Republican candidates, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich have made recent campaign swings through Tennessee. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who came in third in Tennessee four years ago, has yet to make any public campaign appearances, though he has drawn the support of Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Nashville metro government worker Jimmie Fitzgerald, 41, was among those casting early ballots Monday.

"I vote early every year to beat the crowd," he said. "I try to encourage everybody to do it, to just get it out of the way."

Albert Tieche, Davidson County's administrator of elections, said early voting helps avoid standing in line.

"It makes it more convenient and takes some of the pressure off of election day," he said. "Does it boost turnout? Not sure. Does it make it more convenient? Absolutely."


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