Nearly 40 percent of Shelby County’s 598,803 voters cast ballots during the early voting period that ended Thursday, Nov. 1.
But the 232,690 early voters – which accounts for 38.9 percent of the total number of registered voters – is fewer than four years ago when 254,362 early votes were cast.
But the Shelby County early voting turnout is the highest of any county in the state.
The last day of early voting also saw the first complaints from voters that they were getting the wrong races on their ballots. The wrong district races became a big problem in the August elections, prompting a state investigation and two lawsuits, one still pending, contesting results in specific races.
Some voters in Millington and the Millington area complained Thursday that their ballots had the wrong races on them. Millington officials went to court after the August elections citing the same problems in a lawsuit that ended with the results of the Millington referendum on a sales tax hike being changed by court order.
The final day of early voting Thursday was also the first day that city-issued photo library cards were accepted unconditionally as valid voter identification in Shelby County.
State election officials continued to order local election officials to give voters presenting the library cards provisional ballots until a Thursday morning order from the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The court, which will hear the issue of the state’s photo voter ID law later in a lawsuit filed by the city of Memphis, ruled the library cards must for now be accepted unconditionally, immediately. Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins instructed Shelby County election officials to comply within an hour of the Supreme Court order.
At 2 p.m., Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s Facebook page included a picture of City Attorney Herman Morris and Deputy City Attorney Regina Newman, who fought the court battle, standing in line to vote early at Shelby County Election Commission headquarters holding up their photo library cards. The picture included city Public Works director Dwan Gilliom, Human Resources director Quintin Robinson and Wharton chief of staff Bobby White, also holding up library cards.
The early voting period ended Thursday with lines at some of the 21 early polling locations across Shelby County. The 22,825 early voters on Thursday was the largest daily turnout of early voting.
On the final day, there was more sparring in the 9th District Congressional race.
Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen complained that Republican challenger George Flinn was repeatedly going past the 100-foot marker around the early voting site at Anointed Temple of Praise on Riverdale to campaign.
State law bars any candidates or campaign workers from talking to voters or passing out material within 100 feet of a polling place either during early voting or on Election Day. The boundary is marked at voting locations with a set of wooden stakes.
Cohen’s campaign had pictures of Flinn within the boundary, talking to voters waiting in line.
The percentage of the total Shelby County voter base that voted early is higher because there are fewer registered voters in 2012 than there were in 2008 because of a state purge of voters who have not voted in eight years. In 2008, there were 650,414 voters in Shelby County.
After the 21 early voting sites closed Thursday evening, the election commission still had not posted early voting statistics from Wednesday. And the election commission had not posted turnout totals or a demographic breakdown of voters for the entire period by press time.
The total number of early voters for Shelby County came instead from numbers released by the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office in Nashville.
The state numbers don’t include a demographic breakdown. But through the next to last day of early voting, 36.1 percent of the early voters were black, 29.6 percent were white and 34.4. percent were “other.”
In the last days of early voting, the percentage of black voters appeared to go up compared to the percentage of white voters and the number of voters classified as other remained fairly constant as a percentage throughout the voting period.