Low voter turnout in Chattanooga precincts

Low voter turnout is frequently associated with off-year elections. These contests occur in odd-numbered years away from state and federal races. Without high-profile races anchoring a ballot, voters tend to stay home.

This was the case again in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when less than 20 percent of registered voters cast a ballot for mayor and City Council earlier this month.

Though still low, precinct-by-precinct turnout fared slightly better. Twenty-five precincts had turnout above 20 percent. More than half of all votes were cast in those precincts.

Riverview had the highest voter turnout with 32 percent. (We exclude one precinct with six registered voters.) It was followed by a North Chattanooga precinct with 30 percent and Dalewood with 29 percent.

Top turnout precincts by percentage
Precinct name Voters Ballots Turnout
Riverview 1,499 476 31.8%
North Chattanooga 1 1,834 557 30.4%
Dalewood 1,324 388 29.3%
Woodmore 1 1,745 499 28.6%
St. Elmo 1 1,783 507 28.4%

The picture is different when looking at overall vote tallies. Eastdale, Mountain Creek and Stuart Heights top that list.

Top precincts by vote totals
Precinct name Voters Ballots Turnout
Eastdale 3,033 769 25.4%
Mountain Creek 1 4,532 737 16.3%
Stuart Heights 2,879 737 25.6%
Lookout Valley 1 3,379 715 21.2%
Hixson 3 2,999 667 22.2%

The Hamilton County Election Commission, which administers local elections, changed how it reports election returns in 2014. Early and absentee votes were previously reported as aggregate numbers untethered to geography. Now, the numbers are reported by the precincts where those voters are registered.

This change is especially important with a low-participation election like Chattanooga’s because early and absentee votes account for 40 percent of the total vote.

We can use this data and other election results to better understand the demographics of the local electorate. For instance, research suggests that off-year elections tend to draw an older, whiter and more affluent electorate. Is this the case here? In the near future, I’ll be comparing census tract data and precinct returns to find out.

Low turnout also poses a challenge for campaigns. How does a candidate generate enthusiasm among voters who are fatigued from a long presidential contest?

Metro Ideas Project will hold a panel discussion with local candidates and campaign volunteers to better understand those challenges. The Wonk Wednesday event will be held March 22 at 5:30 p.m. in our Highland Park office. The public is invited to attend.

Chattanewbies is co-hosting the event with us to help welcome new residents to the city. Get directions or RSVP on Facebook.

David Morton

Project editor

David Morton is a former reporter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has contributed to several nonprofit and journalism projects aimed at improving citizens' access to local government and public affairs.