Knoxville City Council primary garners unprecedented number of candidates

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After the hectic year that was 2016, some people may have yearned for a break from politics. If the Knoxville City Council Primaries are any indication, that break isn’t coming anytime soon. In fact, an unprecedented number of people actually want to get into politics. 

In all, five open seats on the nine-seat Knoxville City Council are up for grabs, with 30 candidates fighting it out in the initial primary scheduled for Aug. 29. That number is down from 31 after District 1 candidate Debbie Helsley dropped out of the race.

Districts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 will all see new leadership in the coming year, with the first- and second-place winners of the primaries from each district moving on to the final Nov. 7 election.  

In District 6 alone, 13 separate candidates are competing for the top two spots, a number that Knox County Administrator of Elections Clifford Rodgers has never seen before.

“This is totally unprecedented, without question,” Rodgers says of the numerous primary candidates running for office. “I don’t even know what the previous record was, but we’re so far ahead of it, it’s not even close.”

Approximately 92,000 Knoxvillians will be eligible to vote in the August primaries. Members of Knoxville’s 5th District will not be eligible to vote in the primaries, with Council member Mark Campen’s term not set to expire until December 2019.

The number of eligible voters may be misleading, however, due to the traditionally low turnout for primary elections. In the 2015 primary, which included elections for a City Council seat as well as a mayoral and state representative election, voter turnout came out to only 4,748, according to the the Knox County Election Commission. This year, however, Rodgers hopes that the unusually high amount of candidate interest for City Council will translate to more people coming to the polls.

“A huge turnout for a primary would be if we got anywhere near 10,000, which in my view is ridiculous … It ought to be much, much higher,” Rodgers says. While he expects a voter turnout of at most 10,000 for the coming primaries, Rodgers notes that his expectations have been “tempered” by the unprecedented number of candidates running for office.

“I hope I miss the mark horribly,” he says. “I hope it’s way more than that.”

Early voting for the City Council primaries begins Aug. 9, with the final election day scheduled for Aug. 29.  

You can find a menu of candidates (for City Council and beyond!) and PDFs of their petitions at the Knox County Election Commission website.

Tanner Hancock is native Nashvillian and 2016 graduate of the University of Tennessee, a little-known school located in Knoxville, Tenn. He spent several years working at the university's student newspaper The Daily Beacon in differing capacities. When not pushing deadline, Tanner enjoys watching obscure samurai flicks or playing Go.

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