Early Voting Begins in Schools Consolidation

By Bill Dries

The lawsuits just got started last week and the rhetoric surrounding the schools consolidation issue is sure to continue.

Now add voting to the mix of the city’s dominant political controversy.

Early voting in the schools consolidation referendum begins Wednesday at the Shelby County Election Commission Downtown offices at 157 Poplar Ave. It continues through March 3.

Early voting in advance of the March 8 Election Day expands Saturday to 15 satellite sites across the city.

For a list of the sites and the hours they are open go to www.shelbyvote.com, the Election Commission’s website.

The schools consolidation referendum shares the ballot with an uncontested special general election for state representative District 98. Democrat Antonio Parkinson won the January primary for the seat vacated by the November death of veteran Democrat Ulysses Jones Jr. He has no opposition and is already serving in Nashville based on an appointment from the Shelby County Commission following his primary victory.

Special election ballots featuring a single race or even two races historically generate the lowest voter turnout by percentage of any kind of election in Shelby County.

But predicting turnout can be tricky when it comes to ballot questions.

The last referendum question for city or county voters to have the ballot to itself was a 3/4-cent sales tax hike for county schools. County voters outside Memphis in the Nov. 15, 1983 election approved the tax hike with a 13.8 percent overall turnout.

The Nov. 25, 1969 referendum that brought liquor by the drink to Memphis and kick started the development of Overton Square had a 47 percent turnout. The same question had been on the ballot in 1967. It was rejected then with a total voter turnout of 41 percent.

A shift of opinion in Whitehaven was credited with putting liquor by the drink over the top. A healthy turnout there also helped and was boosted by an issue unique to Whitehaven.

As the Election Commission conducted the countywide election, the Whitehaven Community Council was conducting its own straw poll on annexation of the area, which was then outside the city limits.

Since state law banned a straw poll on the ballot, the community group set up its own voting stations at all nine Whitehaven voting precincts just outside the 100-foot limit around the official polling places.

City leaders in Millington did the same thing at their one precinct to gauge community reaction to its water fluoridation program.

The June 22, 1971 city-county consolidation charter drew a 24 percent turnout countywide, 22.5 percent in the city and 37.1 percent in the county outside Memphis. The charter was rejected.

And the March 7, 1978 statewide referendum on a set of changes to the Tennessee Constitution could only get a 17.7 percent turnout countywide.

The ballot featured 13 separate amendments recommended by a state constitutional convention.