Sales tax measure lifts early voting totals

Photo by Dave Boyd
Amber Baker of Roan Mountain looks over a sample ballot before voting at the Carter County Courthouse. Baker was one of the last to vote during the early voting period, which ended at 4 p.m. Thursday.

By Thomas Wilson
A referendum that would raise the county's sales tax by one half percent boosted the number of Carter County citizens who participated in early voting when that number is compared to the county and democratic presidential primary of four years ago.
Early voting ended Thursday with voters casting ballots for the county-wide sales tax referendum, county Republican primary and presidential preference primary.
The Carter County Election Commission office reported 2,058 registered voters cast ballots in the presidential preference primary and county primary.
Although that count is less than 10 percent of the more than 29,000 registered voters in the county, it is a dramatic increase from the March 2000 presidential preference primary when only 775 voters participated in early voting.
The boost may have come from the county-wide sales tax referendum on an otherwise light ballot. The referendum gives citizens the chance to vote yes or no to impose a one half percent increase to the county's local option sales tax rate, raising it from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent.
Of this year's early voting totals, 1,521 citizens voted in the Republican primary while 532 voters cast ballots in the Democratic presidential primary.
The party split is significant for the county primary. Citizens voting in the Democratic primary are ineligible to vote in the lone county primary race for the Assessor of Property. George Fortner, Gerald Holly, and Ted Weaver are vying to become the county's next tax assessor.
The Election Commission office reported Tuesday there were 29,372 registered voters eligible to vote in the primary on Feb. 10. In addition to early voting totals, commission office staff mailed out 210 absentee ballots, totaling 147 and 73 for the Republican and Democratic primaries, respectively.
The Carter County Democratic Party chose not to hold a county primary for the Assessor of Property office. President Bush is guaranteed the Republican nomination, which should result in a low voter turnout for the county primary.
The earlier primary date gives the state a larger role in the Democratic presidential preference primary. Although Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry continues to run strong, racking up five of seven state primaries and caucuses on Tuesday, Tennessee is one of several Southern states that could prove a deciding factor in the choice for his running mate.
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina won the South Carolina Democratic primary and finished a close second to Gen. Wesley Clark in Oklahoma on Tuesday. Tennessee and Virginia hold their presidential preference primary on Tuesday, Feb. 10, giving Edwards an opportunity to make a strong showing before the March 2 "Super Tuesday" when over 1,600 delegates will be awarded as Democratic front-runners.