Voter Participation In Knoxville Primary Reaching Historically Low Levels

Sep 20, 2013

Credit WUOT, Matt Shafer Powell

There are 90,168 eligible voters who can cast ballots in the Knoxville City Council primary, which ends with Tuesday’s election.

As Early Voting closed Thursday evening, only 713 Knoxvillians had actually done so.  That’s a turnout rate short of 1%. 

Knox County Election Commission Administrator Clifford Rodgers blames the lack of drama and excitement for the low turnout, where three of the five races are uncontested.  “People like choices.   I understand that,” Rodgers says.  “It’s like going to a restaurant and you’ve only got one thing on the menu.  People aren’t excited about that.”

Nick Pavlis, Duane Grieve and Brenda Palmer are all running unopposed in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts, respectively. 

The other two races are actually contested.  In the 4th district, incumbent Nick Della Volpe is being challenged by Rick Staples, while Daniel Brown and Pete Drew are facing off in the 6th district. 

However, even the results of those contested 4th and 6th district races aren’t definitive—at least not yet.   The Knoxville City Charter dictates the top two vote-getters in each primary will move on to the November 5th general election.  Because no single race contains more than two candidates, all seven candidates who appear on the primary ballot will also appear on the November ballot. 

The small bit of election drama that existed evaporated when Carl Lansden withdrew his write-in candidacy from the 4th District race.  With Lansden out of the picture, Della Volpe and Staples will automatically advance. 

By the time absentee and election-day ballots for the primary are counted, Rodgers guesses the vote totals could reach the 2000-3000 range.  Even that’s historically low.  “We’d have to go back a ways to have a lower turnout than that,” Rodgers says, “and that’s unfortunate.”

Rodgers is holding out hope the November election will bring some of those missing voters back to the polls.  In the general election, voters can cast ballots in any race, regardless of whether they live in that particular district.