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VOL. 129 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 25, 2014

Democratic Sample Ballot Omits Some Names

By Bill Dries

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Not every candidate who claimed the Democratic nomination in the May county primaries is on the Shelby County Democratic Party’s endorsement ballot that hits the streets this week.

The endorsement ballots of both local political parties are a companion to the campaign signs as early voting is underway. The local Democratic party ballot is missing a few names of Democrats who won the primaries.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

With early voting underway in advance of the Aug. 7 election day, the sample ballot does not include Juvenile Court clerk candidate Henri Brooks, Circuit Court clerk nominee Rhonda Banks, Probate Court clerk candidate William Chism and County Clerk nominee Charlotte Draper.

It also lists Wanda Halbert, the Democratic nominee for Criminal Court clerk, and Coleman Thompson, the Democratic nominee for register, in much smaller type than the other candidates.

In the 13 races for Shelby County Commission, the Democratic ballot lists only four of the nine Democratic nominees in the district races.

Democratic incumbent Commissioner Walter Bailey, who faces a challenge in District 8 from Republican Julie Ray, is not on the ballot. Neither is Dr. Manoj Jain, the Democratic nominee challenging Republican incumbent Steve Basar in District 13.

Democratic commission candidates Melvin Burgess, Justin Ford and Eddie Jones are not on the endorsement ballot, but they are running unopposed.

The ballot is an indication that the party is likely to have a tumultuous reckoning at least over strategy and the state of party unity after all of the votes are counted Aug. 7, no matter what the election results are.

Democrats lost every race for many of the same countywide partisan offices four years ago in a Republican sweep.

Through Wednesday, July 23, 21,124 Shelby County citizens had voted early. Of that, 51.4 percent voted in the Democratic primary and 47.1 percent in the Republican primary. The remaining 1.5 percent voted in neither primary, only in the county general elections.

The Shelby County Republican Party’s ballot includes a red checkmark by everyone who won the Republican primary races in May and endorsements by the party’s steering committee in some but not all nonpartisan judicial races.

Neither party made endorsements in any of the seven Shelby County Schools board races. But unlike the Democratic ballot layout, the Republican ballot includes those races – just without any indication of an endorsement.

The difference in the layout indicates different strategies for how to approach a ballot that each party wants voters to take with them to their polling place.

Some strategists in each party believe a layout that shows the ballot as it is, especially one as long as the August ballot, allows voters to orient themselves and more easily find the names with the red checkmarks.

Other political strategists in each party believe it is best not to give voters any other ideas about who to vote for or risk them stopping on an unendorsed name that they nevertheless recognize. They believe it is best to stick to a list of names that voters will find regardless of whether they are aware of the particular race.

The endorsement ballots mailed to voters or handed out at voting locations, usually by paid poll workers, are a political currency with a long tradition in Shelby County politics. Other groups also have endorsement ballots, some of which use names close enough that earlier this year local Democratic Party chairman Bryan Carson warned that the party would take seriously any attempt to confuse voters.

Neither local party ballot made an endorsement in any of the yes-no retention races for state appellate courts, including the three Tennessee Supreme Court positions on the ballot. They also each passed on any endorsements in the state and federal primary elections.

The Republican ballot includes photos of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, District Attorney General Amy Weirich and Sheriff Bill Oldham.

The Democratic ballot doesn’t include pictures of any candidates it endorses.

The Republican ballot is paid for by the Shelby County Republican Party. The Democratic ballot includes a line at the bottom that indicates it was paid for by the Tennessee Democratic Party. But the arrangement is that the local Democratic party pays the amount for postage to the state party and the state party pays the U.S. Postal Service. It's a service the state party offers county parties across the state.

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