NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Voters head to the polls on Election Day Thursday after a slow start to this year’s turnout as reflected in early voting totals.

“We’re missing three keys for a really big turnout: One is a presidential election, which we don’t have this year, second would be a gubernatorial election, which we don’t have and the third would be a US Senate election,” said Middle Tennessee State University Political Scientist and University Honors Dean Dr. John Vile.

According to the Tennessee Secretary Of State 477,873 voted early in 2022, 626,894 in 2018 (-23.8%), and 564,733 in 2014 (-15.4%).

“[Congressman Jim] Cooper’s seat has been in a redistricted and so, you know, there’s a very large incumbency, reelection rate and we don’t have that going this time, because he’s not running and we have new districts,” explained Dr. Vile.

In Davidson County, 35,429 voter early in 2022, 57,920 in 2018, and 30,875 in 2014. In Montgomery County, 9,139 voted early this year, 10,502 in 2018, and 11,845 in 2014. There was a similar trend in Rutherford County when 16,155 voted early this year, 22,803 did so in 2018, and the final early vote count was 17,514 in 2014.

“There was a partisan dimension that got added in the last presidential election, for better or worse, where Republicans generally and Trump in particular, were telling people don’t vote early, wait until the day of the election itself and I don’t know if there’s some residual effect from that or not,” said Dr. Vile.

For the first time, people will cast ballots in partisan school board races in Tennessee.

“It seems like if there would be anything that we could come to agreement on, it would be that we would educate our children without having a Republican or a Democratic conservative or liberal agenda,” said Dr. Vile. “It would probably gin up a little bit more interest. You know, if you’re a partisan, you are probably more likely to vote if it’s a partisan election than if you’re not.”

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He said this also highlights the increased polirization among voters in the United States.

“We’d be naive to think this is the first time in history people have ever disagreed over political parties. We’ve had some very raucous elections, you know, going back to 1800, 1824, 1828, 1876, and whatever,” said Dr. Vile. “But in recent memory, people seem more and more split into camps, and less and less willing to listen to one another.”

That divisiveness became evident on political ads airing on televisions across our area.

“Yes, negative ads tend to work. One thing that you need to be careful of is, it’s not always the candidates themselves that are running the ads, there are independent expenditures can be made. And so you might have a candidate who would be perfectly satisfied to present only positive information and then you have PACs coming in and saying, well, you know, this guy’s high tax, we got to go against him or, you know, this woman favors this, which we don’t support,” he explained.

Regardless, everyone is encouraged to cast their vote on Election Day if they didn’t during early voting.

“The elections are in our hands, for better or worse, we have the opportunity to vote, it’s not always as easy to vote in one place as another,” Dr. Vile said. “But again, if you don’t vote, you don’t have a lot of right to complain when candidates are selected that you didn’t approve of.”