U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s campaign sent out an email newsletter Monday, July 23, that summarized the partisan reality of early voting so far in Shelby County.
“The Republicans are turning out to vote in massive numbers, and they are outvoting us,” read the lead line from the Democratic incumbent.
Through Monday, 30,816 Shelby County voters had cast early ballots. Of that number, 53.4 percent – or 16,441 – voted in the Republican primaries and 44.2 percent – or 13,628 voted in the Democratic primaries. The remaining 747 voters cast early ballots in the non-partisan county general elections only.
Four years ago in the same Shelby County election cycle, early voter turnout in the August Democratic primaries was twice the turnout in the companion Republican primaries on the same ballot.
July 28 is the final day of the early voting period in advance of the Aug. 2 election day.
The same thing is happening statewide.
Statewide early voting totals through Saturday, July 21, show Republican turnout is more than twice Democratic turnout. Republican primary voters were 104,617 of the state’s 154,744 early voters, according to statistics from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office.
Meanwhile, if some of the incumbent-on-incumbent Democratic primaries for Shelby County seats in the Tennessee legislature are as close as some political observers think, the difference could be among voters who might not have gotten the right ballots during early voting.
Shelby County Commission candidate Steve Ross talked Monday about his detailed look at what appear to be more than 1,000 instances in which voters in state legislative and U.S. Congressional primaries voted a ballot for a district they did not live in.
Ross matched the voter records from the Shelby County Election Commission’s participating voter list of those who have voted early so far with the state of Tennessee’s maps of the newly drawn state legislative and U.S. House district lines.
The election commission’s precinct locator feature has been removed from its Web page and those who search for the term “precinct locator” on the site get a warning that the districts listed when a voter enters his or her address there are not current.
“That to me is an indication that their voter file is inaccurate,” Ross said.
Election commission officials confirmed Tuesday, July 24, that they have found "a limited number of voters in certain precincts" who got the wrong ballot in some district races, based on Ross's claim. They were voters living in State House districts 93 and 98.
"Everyone agrees that this has been an extremely complicated election with many issues and many elements that were still moving right up to the beginning of early voting," Shelby County Election Commission chairman Robert D. Meyers said. "Given the high profile of this election, we expect voters to raise more issues about what they are or are not eligible to vote on based on their address."
And Meyers encouraged voters to raise those issues before casting their votes.
Ross says the commission may have taken on too much when it decided to change the voter database this past June that includes what districts a voter lives in instead of beginning as the Tennessee legislature passed a redistricting plan for itself as well as the U.S. Congressional districts in Tennessee this past February.
The election commission waited for the Shelby County Commission to complete its redistricting, which wasn’t resolved until this month when Chancellor Arnold Goldin imposed a plan on a commission that couldn’t approve a plan with a nine-vote, two-thirds majority.
“The county commission wasn’t going to redistrict itself by May,” Ross said. “Maybe waiting until June was waiting too late.”
Primaries for seats in the state House usually draw 5,000 to 6,000 votes each at the most and are usually races in which incumbents run unchallenged within their own party or with only token opposition.
In a close primary race that draws the same voter turnout, 100 or 200 votes could be the difference.
Ross found what he is certain are 867 cases of voters in the state house races getting the wrong ballot. In some districts that amounts to 100 to 200 votes each.
The 2012 state House primaries are different than past years because redistricting has led to the elimination of two state House seats in Shelby County and one state Senate seat.
But none of the six Democratic incumbents who find themselves in the same district with other Democratic incumbents have stood down.
The result is 16 Shelby County House incumbents running for 14 seats in the primaries as well as a state Senate Democratic primary pitting incumbents Beverly Marrero and Jim Kyle against one another.
A dispute of primary election results would presumably go to the primary board of either party to resolve and it would presumably follow the state law for general election challenges.
The standard for overturning an election by Tennessee law is to prove irregularities in enough votes to change the outcome of a race. Even if a primary board agreed with such a challenge, the other candidate would likely take the matter to court.