The 2021 election will look different than in years past. Typically, ward and at-large alderpersons are elected separately, in staggered years; however, this year’s ballot will include one at-large seat that was left vacant following the death of former alderperson Pearl Bransford in November. Additionally, Incumbent Ward 1 Alderperson Beverly Burger is running unopposed.
Competition for the remaining four seats is also expected to be stiff as 13 candidates have filed to run this year, a factor that could encourage more people to vote, according to local officials. Although the past five city elections have seen less than 10% voter turnout, officials said this year’s races could draw more people to the polls.
“This time around, we’ve got a lot of incumbents not seeking re-election, and there’s a lot of new faces on the ballot,” Williamson County Elections Administrator Chad Gray said. “If they get out and campaign a lot, that’s certainly going to raise more awareness.”
Getting the word out
Although turnout in presidential elections are higher—reaching 78% in the November 2020 election, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office—Gray said the type of turnout seen in Franklin is fairly typical for a municipal election because they often do not occur in the same year as a presidential or state election.
“The turnout is usually somewhat dismal to be quite honest,” Gray said. “We’re lucky if we get 20% to 25% for a countywide election that’s just for county candidates. In municipal elections, we’re lucky if we get maybe 12% or 13%.”
Gray said many cities typically choose to hold elections separately from state and national elections to make sure people know more about the candidates running. In a nationwide election, local matters are typically placed at the bottom of the ballot, he said.
City Administrator Eric Stuckey said the city has worked with the county election commission to expand early voting hours from ending at 4:30 p.m. to ending at 6 p.m. on weekdays for people who work during normal business hours to have more time to vote.
“Just going a little bit later allows us to maybe catch some people after work, so that seemed like a smart move and that’s a minimal additional cost for that,” Stuckey said.
Future precinct changes
Officials said one barrier to voting can be convenience. Williamson County uses convenience voting centers—meaning voters can choose any polling place in the county, not just voting locations in their precincts. But some wards in the city are located farther from centers than others, something officials are looking to remediate.
During its Aug. 24 meeting, members of the Franklin Board of Mayor and Aldermen discussed expanding the number of voting sites in the city to help encourage more residents to participate.
Williamson County has established eight locations that will be open in Franklin on Election Day. However, only one is located on the east side of I-65, a portion of the city experiencing significant growth, according to officials. Additionally, only one location will be open during early voting Oct. 6-21.
"A lot of people had been asking about having an early voting option east of Mack Hatcher [Parkway]; we don’t have anything except one location and it’s all the way down West Main at the county administration building,” Burger said. “I think early voting is really important to people.”
However, Stuckey said because the election commission finalizes voting locations by mid-September, it likely would not be feasible to establish a new voting location in time. Additionally, the extra location could cost the city between $10,000-$11,000 per additional site for staffing, plus any additional rental costs.
“You’d need it for 14 days. It’s not like an election day site where you can get a school that’s closed,” Stuckey said.
But those geographical limitations may not be the case for long, according to county officials. This city of Franklin election will be the last the county hosts before it undergoes redistricting, a process required by law to occur after each decennial Census count. Following the 2020 Census, Williamson County and individual cities will undergo a process to redraw wards based on population growth.
Preliminary data from the U.S. Census Bureau found the city of Franklin’s population grew by about one third since 2010 to more than 83,000 residents in 2020. Due to that growth, the city will recalculate the boundaries of each of the city’s four wards to make them more equal in population size. As a result, residents may see a change in who represents them on a local level.
Should the city and county agree on new voting precinct locations, those would go into effect for voters in the October 2023 election.
“Historically, we’ve always had [early voting] at our office here on West Main Street and that’s been the only location, but in the future I think [the city] might want to explore some other options there,” Gray said.
Key dates to know
Voter registation deadline: Sept. 27
Early voting: Oct. 6-21
Request deadline for absentee ballot: Oct. 19
Election Day: Oct. 26