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VOL. 123 | NO. 22 | Friday, February 01, 2008

Early Voting Numbers 'Relatively' Robust

By Bill Dries

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WATCHING VOTERS WATCH CANDIDATES: Early voting in advance of Tuesday's Tennessee presidential primary spiked the day after Democratic contender Hillary Clinton campaigned in the city. But election officials warn that the overall turnout will probably still be low. -- Photo By Bill Dries

Early voter turnout in Shelby County spiked in the final days of the voting period.

As a result, election officials expected the turnout in advance of Tuesday's Tennessee presidential primaries to be around 20,000 to 25,000 of the more than 611,000 registered voters in Shelby County. That would be twice as many as the 11,313 early voters in the 2004 primaries.

The early voting period ended Thursday. Look for an update on the final turnout figures in today's edition of The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.


Theory of relativity

Shelby County Election Commission figures through Tuesday show 15,057 citizens had voted early countywide. The daily numbers went up sharply, more than 1,500 per day, beginning last Friday, when 18 satellite locations opened for balloting.

The daily numbers then spiked again starting Monday with more than 4,500 per day. The second spike began the day after Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton made a campaign stop in the city. It was also immediately after her rival for the nomination, Barack Obama, won the South Carolina primary.

But local Election Commission chairman Myra Stiles cautioned against coming to any conclusions about what is driving the relatively healthy primary turnout - emphasis on relatively.

"Of course, you know these primaries always have a poor turnout because they come early and people really aren't expecting them. And then there's not that many things on the ballot for them to vote for," Stiles said. "The vote last time was really poor, so I think this will be better than that."


Changes in the air

Through Tuesday, nearly 70 percent of people voting early were voting in the Democratic primary. The vote was evenly split racially with nearly 23 percent of those casting early ballots classified as "other" in terms of race.

Voters do not have to identify themselves by race in registering to vote in Tennessee. People who do not designate their race are among those classified in the "other" category. And 59 percent of the early voters were women.

Meanwhile, former local Republican party chairman John Ryder is continuing his quest to end the early presidential primary schedule.

Ryder is an advocate of the "Delaware plan" that would divide the primaries into monthly tiers of elections starting in March with the smallest states in terms of population. The largest states would be in the final tier of primaries in June. Tennessee's primary would be held in May under the plan, which is one of several being considered by a Republican National Committee rules panel.

Ryder spoke for the Delaware plan at a January meeting of the GOP rules committee. A decision is expected at another meeting of the group in April. Also up for consideration are several other plans that each use the same four-month tier structure but would rotate the primary schedule among the states.

"In talking to members of the rules committee, there seems to be broad support for the Delaware plan. ... All of the rotating plans require a quadrennial review by the (state) legislatures. All 50 legislatures would have to adopt legislation to change their primary dates to conform," Ryder said. "Getting a rule passed by one party's rules committee is difficult enough. I can't imagine getting it through 50 state legislatures."

If the RNC and the Democratic National Committee approve the plan at their summer conventions, it would take effect with the 2012 campaign season.


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