Early voting begins today

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com
Carter County voters can take their first shot at the polls as the two-week early voting period begins today and runs through Feb. 5.
While the local primary races are light, the county's sales tax referendum will likely draw county voters. The earlier primary date gives the state a larger role in the Democratic presidential preference primary.
However, if winter weather keeps voters away, the number of votes cast could be even lower than the anemic voter turnout in the presidential primary held four years ago.
"Weather is going to have a big impact," said Laura Tester, the county's deputy administrator of elections. "I think our clear days are going to be really busy because people are going to say 'we better go get it over with.'"
Tester also said the county-wide sales tax referendum would be the major draw for voters on an otherwise light ballot. The referendum gives citizens the chance to vote yes or no to impose a 1/2 percent increase to the county's local option sales tax rate from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent.
The Election Commission office reported Tuesday there were 28,348 registered voters eligible to vote in the primary on Feb. 10. In the 2000 county and presidential primary, only 10 percent of the county's registered voters -- around 3,000 citizens -- cast ballots.
The 2000 presidential primary was held March 15. Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore had already locked up the nomination of their parties by the time Tennesseans went to the polls, contributing to the low voter turnout. The county Republican primary pitting former assessor of Property John Holsclaw against Bobby Huffman and four constables offices were the only major local races for county voters.
The Tennessee Legislature moved the presidential primary to February to give the state more significance in the presidential election campaign. While incumbent President Bush is a virtual lock for the GOP nomination, the Iowa caucus held Monday put candidates Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in a tight three-way race for the Democratic nomination.
The first week of February will set off the presidential campaign when seven states hold primary and caucus elections. Arizona, Delaware, Oklahoma, Missouri, and South Carolina hold primaries, and New Mexico and North Dakota hold caucuses on Feb. 3. Caucuses for Michigan and Washington state will be held Feb. 7.
Sen. John Kerry won the Iowa caucus Monday night with North Carolina Sen. John Edwards finishing second. The Democratic presidential candidates journey next to New Hampshire where candidate and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean expects to run strong.
Carter County Election Commission office announces that the early voting period will extend from Jan. 21 to Feb. 5. Citizens may vote from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday at the Carter County Courthouse. Citizens who wish to vote early can also vote at the courthouse on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon during the early voting period.
(Editor's note: The three candidates seeking the assessor of property's office will be profiled in the Star's upcoming Sunday edition.)