BRISTOL, Tenn. — Voter turnout in Tuesday’s election in Bristol, Tennessee, was 11%, the same as in the 2017 city election.
Of 16,060 registered voters in the city, 1,723 cast ballots Tuesday in the election of two seats on the City Council and two on the Board of Education, according to unofficial totals. Six sought the council seats, while there were five candidates up for the school board.
That turnout matches the percentage who voted in 2017, when there was competition for only one council seat. But it is nearly three times the number who voted in 2015, when turnout was just 4%.
Jason Booher, Sullivan County administrator of elections, said it can be difficult to determine what motivates voters to go to the polls, due to the high number of contributing variables.
“It comes partly down to the field of candidates, issues being discussed and the type of election,” Booher said. “I wish I had a crystal ball that told me who was going to come out and vote; that would make my job a lot easier.”
Additionally, presidential elections tend to draw out more voters than congressional elections, and mayoral elections tend to draw out more than city council or boards of aldermen elections, he said.
There was more spending by the candidates during this City Council election, with Vince Turner, the top vote-getter, paying about $9.65 per vote and Mahlon Luttrell, the other winner, paying about $6.52 per vote. More than $15,000 combined was spent by candidates running for council.
Booher said the current high levels of spending by candidates is just one of the realities of the current landscape of electoral politics. In a national election, candidates get lots of free airtime from the press, but in local elections, it’s often up to candidates to make voters aware of them, Booher said.
“Having someone tell a candidate ‘I will vote for you’ doesn’t guarantee that person will vote,” Booher said. “They need to remind people to get out there and vote by spending money on advertisements, signs and mailers.”
Turnout was higher in Bluff City, with 223 votes cast, which was 21% of all registered voters, in the election of three members of the Board of Mayor & Aldermen.