Republicans have the suburban ballot questions on municipal school districts. Democrats have outrage over the voter photo ID state law.
Together the two factors could have more to do with voter turnout in the Aug. 2 elections than any of the candidates on the ballot.
Early voting expanded Monday, July 16, into 20 satellite locations across Shelby County including three in the suburban towns and cities where the municipal school district questions are on the ballot.
The first two days of the early voting period at one location only, Shelby County Election Commission Downtown offices, along with absentee voting showed a turnout of 579 voters or 0.1 percent of Shelby County’s 433,580 voters.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, and a group of approximately 50 supporters turned out Saturday in a show of electoral support in his Democratic primary battle with challenger and countywide school board member Tomeka Hart.
Just two years ago on the opening Saturday of early voting Cohen arrived with a group of supporters to vote early just ahead of his 2010 primary rival Willie Herenton with Herenton taunting Cohen across Poplar Avenue.
This year, it was all Cohen who also talked up a slate of Democratic candidates in the countywide races and legislative primary races he is supporting. The several dozen supporters Cohen brought with him equaled about the total the Cohen and Herenton camps brought Downtown with much more fanfare two years ago.
The Cohen ballot doesn’t include every race with a Democrat in it. And he is pointedly endorsing Beverly Marrero over Jim Kyle in the state Senate District 30 Democratic primary. Both are incumbent senators who find themselves in the same district because of the once-a-decade redistricting process following the 2010 U.S. Census.
One supporter asked Cohen whom he would recommend in the state House District 90 Democratic primary among John DeBerry, Ian Randolph and Jeanne Richardson.
“That’s up to y’all,” Cohen replied. “They’re both my friends,” he said of DeBerry and Richardson.
It took Cohen just a few minutes to vote the ballot and Cohen later said he was surprised by the two judicial retention votes on the ballot – Judges Roger A. Page and Jeffrey Bivins of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
And Cohen is among Democrats who are urging a strong turnout of the Democratic base in response to the new voter photo identification law that took effect this year.
The Democratic leaders claim the requirement of a state or federal photo ID is aimed specifically at Democratic voters.
“Photo ID is a literacy test of the 21st century,” Cohen said. “To me, it’s a repressive tool that shouldn’t have seen the light of day.”
Tennessee Republican Party chairman Chris Devaney, meanwhile, joined the fray over voter ID requirements.
“You have to have short-term memory loss or completely ignore issues to not recognize that voter fraud has long been a problem in Shelby County,” Devaney tweeted Friday. “This law is about protecting the integrity of our elections and making sure no one’s vote is cancelled out by someone who is ineligible to vote.”
Devaney is referring to the investigation into the 2005 state Senate race between Democrat Ophelia Ford and Republican Terry Roland that found some polling officials had voted for or permitted others to vote in the name of voters who were dead but had not been purged from voter rolls.
Democrats argue the voter fraud wasn’t an instance where a photo ID would have prevented the fraudulent ballots from being cast in an election that Ford won by 13 votes.
The voter ID issues and the municipal schools district ballot questions could have a spillover effect into other races.
Some of those races may already be close.
The race for Shelby County property assessor between Democratic incumbent Cheyenne Johnson and Republican challenger Tim Walton is an example.
The Memphis Area Association of Realtors last week announced a duel endorsement of Johnson and Walton along with financial support of both by the Tennessee Realtors Political Action Committee.