This article was originally published in Public News Service.
The Volunteer State ranks poorly in the U.S. for its overall lack of voter participation.
Over the last decade, critics say the poor turnout is partly a result of regular purges of the voter rolls, new registration requirements, and the state's restrictive voting laws that create unnecessary barriers.
Ballots are already being cast for the upcoming August 4 primary - and Debby Gould, president of the League of Women Voters of Tennessee, said so far, the early voting turnout is low.
"Almost nobody is doing early voting, which is really unusual," said Gould. "We're a state that likes to 'early vote.' But we have less than 1% of the voters who've done early voting the first three days."
Tennessee's early voting period for this primary ends July 30. Gould pointed out that voting early offers the flexibility of evening and Saturday hours, and allows Tennesseans to avoid Election Day crowds and shorten their wait times at the polls.
The August 4 election ballot is the longest in Tennessee history, with 20 pages of information to digest. Gould said the League has worked to make it easier for people to vote by posting a sample ballot online at 'Vote411.org' that anyone can study before they head to the polls.
"It allows you to go ahead and it says, 'Explore your personalized ballot and candidate information,'" said Gould. "And it allows you to actually look at every single race and see who's on the ballot and to make your selections in advance. It actually even has a printout, if you want to take a printout with you."
She explained that the ballot is lengthy because it encompasses two elections - the primary for state and federal races, and the General Election for local races.
The ballot includes candidates for more than 65 elected offices, 26 judicial positions, and in some counties, proposed charter amendments.
Gould says with such a long ballot, a few important issues haven't gotten much attention.
"Legislative races, state legislative races, are not," said Gould. "We're having some significant congressional redistricting coming up. And finally, this is the first year that school boards can be partisan positions as opposed to nonpartisan positions."
She said these results will all have significant impacts on entire communities.
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