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VOL. 125 | NO. 201 | Friday, October 15, 2010

Out of the Gate

Early voting kicks off contentious election

By Bill Dries

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Gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter campaigns during the first day of early voting outside the Shelby County Election Commission office at 157 Poplar. All 21 early voting sites opened Wednesday. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

On the first day of early voting, Jack Sammons and Keith McDonald were together again.

Sammons, a former Memphis City Councilman and consolidation advocate, and McDonald, the mayor of Bartlett and consolidation opponent, were debating the merits of the metro charter proposal before the Kiwanis Club of Memphis. The two have taken the debate to other forums across the county in recent weeks.

Early voting opened this week in Memphis with the charter debate dominating campaign activity in Shelby County after months under the political radar.

The voting period runs through Oct. 28 at 21 locations across the county. Go to www.shelbyvote.com for a list of locations and hours. Election Day is Nov. 2.

On the opening day, 4,715 of the county’s 600,000 voters cast early ballots in the set of local, state and federal general elections, the last of three election cycles this year.

Collierville Church of Christ was the busiest early voting site.

Election workers Gene and Alice Talley help Helen McKay find the early voting site in the Shelby County Election Commission office.

The first-day total is high for early voting. But in past elections, early voting began at Shelby County Election Commission headquarters only before expanding to satellite sites in the first full week.

Sammons told a group of 80 at The Peabody hotel that the charter is “more likely not to prevail” once all of the votes are counted.

“But if it does (fail), we must not stop,” he added. “We can come back in two years if we are not successful. We’re not a total underdog but certainly we’re not favored. But we must never stop the effort to build a better community.”

McDonald said there are good ideas in the proposed charter, but not enough to support it.

“My concern is consolidated government, which is what it creates, and what that will do to us,” McDonald said. “In the suburban communities, we feel without a doubt … our taxes will go up. So, obviously if you’re going to pay more taxes you want something more for it. And the charter does not give us anything additional for those additional taxes we believe will be created.”

Still to be decided is a federal lawsuit challenging the dual vote count on the consolidation question.

Eight citizens filed a lawsuit last week seeking a court order that would require a single countywide vote count on the charter instead of the current requirement that the charter win in a count of votes in the city of Memphis and in a separate count of votes in the county outside Memphis.

No date has been set for an expedited hearing before U.S. District Judge Thomas Anderson. Summons to the defendants in the case were just delivered this week.

Meanwhile, Democratic nominee for governor Mike McWherter of Jackson was in Memphis Wednesday afternoon at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church and Bishop Byrne High School early voting sites.

McWherter has said the race for governor will be decided by the early vote. In some parts of the state it accounts for more than half of the combined election returns. In Shelby County, the early vote percentage of the overall turnout across several election cycles is usually closer to 35 percent.

Republican rival Bill Haslam kicked off an early voting bus tour Wednesday in Knoxville, where he is mayor.

As the tour began, Haslam was touting endorsements from five Tennessee newspapers and repeating an eternal political axiom.

“The only poll that matters is Nov. 2,” he said in a written statement.

Voter turnout in this set of elections over the last 40 years has ranged from 30 percent in 1998 to 66 percent in 1970.

The election cycle always includes the general statewide election for governor and sometimes includes statewide races for U.S. Senate.

The 1970 November ballot featured Memphian Winfield Dunn as the Republican nominee for governor and a hard fought U.S. Senate race in which Republican challenger Bill Brock unseated Democratic incumbent Albert Gore Sr.

PROPERTY SALES 51 328 20,960
MORTGAGES 58 387 24,132
BUILDING PERMITS 170 842 43,435
BANKRUPTCIES 50 288 13,468