Think Tennessee report: noncompetitive races partially to blame for low turnout

By: - November 16, 2022 12:14 pm
Voters at Nashville's Downtown Library.(Photo: Ray DiPietro)

CAPTION: According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 21 bills that restrict voting or interfere with election administration were either signed into law, or await the governor’s signature, as of May 29. (New Jersey Monitor)(Photo: Ray DiPietro)

Tennessee’s historically low voter turnout was significantly less than in 2018 and noncompetitive races were partially to blame, according to analysis by Think Tennessee, a civic engagement organization.

Controversy defined the days leading to Election Day as Davidson County voters reported receiving ballots for the wrong congressional districts.. A day before Election Day, the Davidson County Election Commission reported that more than 400 voters had been affected during early voting, and 500 more would be asked to vote on corrected ballots on Nov. 8.  

But the report concludes that noncompetitive races play a bigger role in low voter turnout than  misassigned ballots. More than half of state legislative races were not competitive, and analysts discussed these races as a potential factor in low voter participation. 

In the state’s legislative races, more than half had only one candidate. In state Senate races, 41% of incumbents had no challenger, and in state House races, 55% of incumbents lacked challengers. 

In races with more than one candidate, only a handful were competitive enough to be within 25 points of each other. For instance, in the state Senate, Republican Sen. Richard Briggs won in Knox County’s District 7 against Democratic challenger Bryan Langan by 25%. In the state House, eight of 45 races came within 25 points, with the closest margins occurring in three races. 

  • In District 41, Republican Ed Butler won by 5.1% 
  • In District 59, Democratic candidate Caleb Hemmer beat Republican Michelle Foreman by 4.76%
  • In District 67, Democratic candidate Ronnie L. Glynn edged out GOP candidate Tommy Vallejos by 1.34%.

Of more than 4 million voters registered to vote in Tennessee, 1.7 million cast votes in the governor’s race at a turnout rate of 38.18%.

Compared with previous midterms, this year’s participation was significantly lower than 2018 at 54.44% but slightly higher than 2014 at 35.97%. 

Tennessee’s supermajority Republican legislature gained one seat in the House, meaning there will be 74 Republicans and 25 Democrats in the House; and 27 Republicans and 6 Democrats in the Senate.

“That’s the perennial question. Why are we not voting?” asked Dawn Schluckebier, advocacy and government relations director at Think Tennessee. 

Tennesseans may not feel like their vote matters, she said, adding that the problem may be two factors. 

One factor is structural, she explained, with people failing to register in time or find information about the ballot. The other factor is personal, with people feeling like their vote doesn’t matter or that casting a vote is even worth their time due to the lack of competition. 

“It’s a complicated question but it’s one that a lot of folks are looking at trying to tap with this idea of increased voter and civic education,” said Schluckebier.

Nationwide, voter turnout was largest in battleground states with competitive races and 2022 had the second highest voter turnout among voters under 30 in at least the past three decades, according to Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. Young Black and Latino voters were also critical in defeating the Republican “red wave” in several battleground states for U.S. Senate seats and tight U.S. House races in the midterm elections. 

“Tennessee needs to build a culture of voting,” she added. 

In the next few weeks, Think Tennessee will be publishing additional post-election analysis, which will include problems voters reported to the official election hotline.

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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.