Less than 20% of Tennessee's registered voters cast ballots in August primary. Here's why.

·2 min read

Tennessee's Aug. 4 primary election motivated less than 20% of the state's registered voters to cast a ballot, according to unofficial voting numbers provided by the Secretary of State's office.

The data, which does not include provisional ballots, indicates 890,886 voters cast a ballot out of 4,491,549 registered voters in the state.

Turnout was about 30,000 voters below average for August primaries over the last decade, which saw a low of 557,507 in 2016 and high of 1,227,913 in 2018, driven in part by a competitive U.S. Senate race and gubernatorial primary.

Previous coverage: Jason Martin secures Tennessee Democratic gubernatorial nomination in narrow win over JB Smiley Jr.

Tennessee legislative election results: Social justice activist wins Democratic primary; two GOP incumbents lose

"There's just not a lot of competitive races," said Kent Syler, a Middle Tennessee State University political science professor, of lower turnout in 2022. "It's like a football game, a competitive game brings out more people than a non-competitive one."

Though Tennesseans will elect a governor in November, incumbent Gov. Bill Lee's unopposed primary bid for re-election likely played a factor in lower turnout, as well as no statewide Senate races.

In the governor's primary, 494,195 people cast Republican ballots for Lee.

On the Democratic side, 257,035 votes were cast in an unusually close race that saw Dr. Jason Martin eke out a victory over JB Smiley Jr.

The 2022 total voter turnout was less than Republican votes alone in a competitive August 2018 primary, where Lee nabbed the nomination. Nearly 793,000 people cast Republican ballots and 373,400 people cast Democratic ballots in that gubernatorial primary.

Syler also said national politics, particularly during the Trump administration, have increasingly drawn interest over local politics.

"Everyone focuses on who is going to be president, forgetting that state and local government together probably has more impact on their lives," Syler said. "From school board to state Senate to U.S. House, you can just see a drop-off in interest, which is part of a drop-off in coverage of these local races."

Despite several legislative seats up for grabs in the Nashville area and a highly competitive Republican congressional primary, Davidson County recorded under 15% voter turnout, among the bottom 15 counties in Tennessee. Just 69,629 of 484,316 registered voters cast a ballot.

East Tennessee saw particularly low turnout, with Sevier County trailing the state at less than 6%. Only Scott County, where 6,944 of 13,290 registered voters cast a ballot, recorded over 50% voter turnout.

Adam Friedman contributed to this report. Reach Melissa Brown at mabrown@tennessean.com.

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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: August primary elections: Tennessee voter turnout under 20%