VOL. 129 | NO. 80 | Thursday, April 24, 2014
Luttrell: Voters ‘Dropping Out’ of Process
By Bill Dries
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says “a lack of civility in public discourse” is one of several reasons many Shelby County voters seem uninterested or unaware of this year’s elections in Shelby County.
Luttrell, who is seeking re-election as mayor in the May Republican primaries, made the comments Tuesday, April 22, at the Memphis Rotary Club.
“I think we have a number of people who are dropping out because they are frustrated with what they see on the news at night and what they read in the paper in the morning,” Luttrell continued. “And they’re just disengaged. … I think we suffer with the quality of candidates.”
Luttrell didn’t name any candidates on the current ballot, and he talked about the low turnout in the 2010 elections for many of the same offices in this election cycle.
Turnout comparisons between the current election cycle and the same cycle four years ago are difficult because the 2010 early voting period featured four days at the Shelby County Election Commission’s Downtown offices before the early voting expanded to 20 satellite sites.
Those first four days in 2010 showed a turnout of just less than 2,300. Once early voting expanded to the satellite sites, the turnout spiked, as did the percentage of those voting in the Republican county primaries.
This year, early voting at the Election Commission offices is seven days, not including the Good Friday holiday, before expanding to satellite locations Friday, April 25.
The first four days of the current early voting period, through Monday, April 21, totaled 1,151, according to Shelby County Election Commission numbers.
Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks, who is running in the Democratic primary for Juvenile Court clerk, is convinced that when satellite locations open, there will be lines.
“You need to be ready for long lines when early voting moves out to the satellite locations,” she said Monday. “Bring whatever you need to bring to be comfortable. Bring your chairs. Bring your snacks. If you bring your babies, bring some diapers and some food. This is so important that you can’t give up. That’s the plan.”
Brooks and Democratic mayoral contender Deidre Malone charged this week that the longer period of early voting only at the Downtown site is an attempt by the Republican majority on the Shelby County Election Commission to suppress voter turnout.
The allegation also works as a rallying point for Democratic candidates to get the Democratic base more involved in the primaries as a preliminary to the August general elections.
Four years ago, Republicans took every countywide office on the ballot after Democrats opted for a disastrous political strategy of assuming they had the majority of voters in Shelby County who would turn out and vote a straight Democratic ticket in which the party’s nominees campaigned as a ticket.
Republicans conceded the Democrats were probably right on the numbers but that it didn’t guarantee turnout. And it didn’t. Republican candidates also scored some crossover success in the general election.
Luttrell said the local political process in general needs “some good candidates out there who are going to stir up some enthusiasm in a positive way about the leadership of the future.”
“I’m astounded at how few people really understand the responsibilities of county government,” he added. “We have got to, as a community, raise the level of understanding and appreciation of those of us in positions like money, focus on civil discourse, making our positions clear.”
The early vote four years ago accounted for 5 percent of the county’s nearly 600,000 voters. Overall turnout including the early vote and election day was 11.1 percent for the May 2010 primaries.
The bulk of the early vote four years ago, 59 percent, voted in the Democratic primary, with the remaining 41 percent voting in the Republican primary.
There are no general election races on the May ballot.
The only differences between the 2010 and 2014 primary races include this year’s primaries for Shelby County district attorney general, a position that has an eight-year term. On the 2014 ballot, the Republican primary features incumbent Amy Weirich running unopposed, while the Democratic primary features former Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown running unopposed. Both advance automatically to the August county general election ballot.
The ballot also marks the switch of the race for Shelby County assessor of property to a different election cycle. The race was last on the ballot in 2012, a county election cycle that featured only one other office, General Sessions Court clerk.
In 2008, county voters approved two sets of county charter amendments that moved the election for assessor to the main county election cycle effective with the 2014 elections.