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VOL. 126 | NO. 148 | Monday, August 1, 2011

Despite Confusion City Ballot Set

By Bill Dries

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Three would-be candidates in the Oct. 6 elections for Memphis City Council have filed complaints with the Shelby County and Tennessee Election Commissions.

Andrew Rome Withers, Ambi Phillips and Ian Randolph contend they were unfairly disqualified from the races they wanted to enter because of confusion from the 11th hour passage of new boundaries for the council districts.

“I guess you’d call it a letter of protest,” Randolph said, adding that he knows the protest is a “long shot” to get him and the others back on the ballot.

“We would really like the election just to be run under the old district lines because that would solve everybody’s problem. At the least, I would like to see some type of policy put in place where the council can’t redistrict … in the middle of election season.”

The present City Council, with all 12 incumbents seeking re-election in October, approved the new district lines two days before the July 21 deadline for candidates to file their qualifying petitions.

Phillips lives in a precinct that was drawn out of District 2. Withers was disqualified for not having enough signatures on his petition of voters in Super District 8.

Randolph had a chance to look over the list of precincts that moved in the shift of the lines and thought he remained in District 7. It’s the only council race without an incumbent.

Even after that Randolph thought he was still within council District 7. He lives in precinct 16-03, which still shows up on the Shelby County Election Commission website as in District 7.

“Every time I went to the website it would show me in District 7,” Randolph said. “I would look at my paperwork online and I’m like, ‘I’m OK. What are they talking about?’”

In the redistricting proposal considered and approved by the council, a precinct with that number is not included. The precinct, which votes on Election Day at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, is referred to in the redistricting plan as precinct 15, a change in precinct numbering. Prior to the redistricting, there was no precinct 15.

Another prospective District 7 candidate Derek Richardson checked out a qualifying petition in April while he lived in an apartment building at Front Street and Madison Avenue. The area became part of council District 6 in the redistricting. But Richardson had already moved to Mud Island in June and Mud Island remains in District 7.

His problem, according to the local Election Commission, was that some of the voters who signed his petition no longer lived in District 7 with the new boundaries.

He didn’t have the required 25 signatures of voters living in his district.

Jesse Jeff, another District 7 contender, was drawn out of District 1 where he intended to run. But he was told the day after the filing deadline that his petition for District 7 was invalid because some of those on his petition didn’t live in District 7. That included his wife, who lives with him at the same address. Jeff said at that point the Election Commission ruled him off the ballot based on the old district lines. His name reappeared on the list of District 7 candidates several days later without explanation.

All those who filed pay a $100 filing fee. Randolph said Election Commission officials asked him to withdraw from the race to get his money back after he had been told he was disqualified. He refused.

“If you tell me that I have been disqualified and I don’t have anything other than your website to say that – then I think I’m out. And it’s due to no fault of my own,” he added. “I think I should be able to get my money back with no problem without withdrawing because you have disqualified me. What am I withdrawing from?”

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