JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – With another election night over, officials and candidates alike expressed frustration from a sheer lack of engagement from voters in the region.

In Washington County, only 12.86% of registered voters made their voices heard on August 4. When looking at the 133,001 residents in the county regardless of registration, that means an even smaller fraction exercised political power at the voting booth.

“Less than one in 10 people are saying how the other 90% live,” said Dana Jones, Administer of Elections for Washington County. “So if you want a voice, you need to get out and vote. And we would love to have you at the polls — if you have a card we have a place for you.”

Jones, who entered the office in 2021 after being voted in by a Republican committee majority, said the amount of prep work for an election day — even one with few contested positions — is immense.

“We have 86,606 voters here in Washington County, so when we prepare for an election we have to prepare for 86,606 voters,” Jones said. “So when you don’t have them, there’s a lot of disappointment there and there’s a lot of work that goes into that.”

Washington County was not alone in low voter turnout. Sullivan County saw an even smaller percentage of registered voters show up at the polls (7.6%), and Unicoi County’s was also slightly lower than Washington’s (11.35%).

To help boost those numbers, Jones said commission staffers spend much of their downtime campaigning to get residents to the polls.

“It’s not an issue getting people registered to vote,” Jones said. “It’s getting them engaged to vote. The engagement happens on several different levels.”

One of those levels, Jones said, was a lack of competition in the county. With only a handful of contested races, Jones said it was unlikely that many voters even realized there was an election that could affect them.

“A lot of people, when they went in to vote on the general ballot, they only had one race that had a competitor on it,” Jones said. “So if you weren’t engaged in that, you weren’t motivated to go out and vote.”

Another cause may have come from candidates themselves, Jones said. Normally, residents in contested areas can expect a few fliers before election day, but Jones said the distribution of classic campaign mailers was quite light this time around.

Another key concern for Jones was a lack of voter education, meaning that many county residents may not even know that certain officials exist, much less what they do.

“They need to know what their local officials do for them so that they know ‘Hey, this is an important race for me to vote in,'” Jones said. “And I think education for each individual county office and how it serves our Washington County citizens, I think that’s important now.”

Compared to 2018’s August 4 election, Washington County’s early voting totals decreased by 2,838 — a drop of over 33%, similar to a drop in 201,4 according to state data.

“If you think about it, what goes on in your county affects you every single day. What goes on at a national level really doesn’t,” Jones said. “So your county official races should be more important to you than your national races.”

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