BY O.J. EARLY
From pulling a lever to tapping a touch screen, the way Americans vote is evolving.
Early-voting, a 20-day period when voters may cast a ballot leading up to an Election Day, has proven popular locally since it was begun statewide in 1994.
Locally, voters choosing to cast their ballots before election day must do so at the Greene County Election Commission office on North Main Street in Greeneville.
Data from the Tennessee Department of Elections show that early-voter turnout in Greene County has steadily increased in each county general election, state election and federal election since the 1990s.
The only exception was November 2012, when the percentage of county voters taking advantage of the opportunity to vote early dropped to its lowest point since 1998.
WHY IS IT POPULAR?
Something is drawing county residents to the polls early.
According to Greene County Administrator of Elections Donna Burgner, voting early relieves the stress of rushing to the polls on Election Day.
"Voters often comment that they enjoy the convenience and flexibility that early voting offers because it allows them to work voting into their busy schedules," said Burgner.
"Many voters have noted they like to cast their vote during their lunch hour."
TURNOUT HIGHEST IN 2008
State data show that just under five percent of the county's registered voters cast ballots early in the county General Election of August 1994, the first time Greene Countians had the chance to vote early.
That number had increased sevenfold by the last countywide election -- almost 40 percent of voters went to the polls early in August 2010 to cast ballots in the county General Election of that year.
Local early-voter turnout peaked in 2008, state data show.
Just under 45 percent of all Greene County votes cast for president came during the early-voting period in the 2008 General Election.
For comparison, about 15 percent of the county's registered voters pulled the lever during early voting in the presidential election of 1996.
LOWER LAST YEAR
In the state and federal election last year, though, local early-vote totals dropped to about 28 percent, the lowest level in more than a decade.
"It is hard to speculate [about] the decrease in the voter turnout for the November 2012 election compared to the previous elections," Burgner said.
"I still was pleased with the voter participation in Greene County during the early-voting period."
Overall voter turnout in 2012 was down in Greene County, election records reveal.
Research by the Sun shows, in fact, that the percentage of registered Greene County voters going to the polls in presidential elections has steadily decreased since 2000.
"It was down some from previous years, but it still shows good participation by Greene County citizens," Burgner said of last year's early voting numbers.
"I am happy to see the citizens of Greene County utilizing the benefits of early-voting as it continues to grow in popularity."