Election Time

Referendum not drawing many early voters

By Bill Dries

A quiet week in the schools consolidation issue is being matched by some modest numbers for early voting turnout.

Hubon “Dutch” Sandridge, Jr., casts an early vote Wednesday in the Election Commission building downtown for the Memphis School charter surrender. Sandridge, who is a former City School Board member, said that he voted in support of the school transfer. The number one issue is school achievement, said Sandridge.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Through Monday, early voting in advance of the March 8 referendum Election Day had topped 3,500. The early voting period runs through March 3.

The turnout of 3,619 is 0.9 percent of the city’s 418,285 voters.

Until Saturday, voting had been limited to Shelby County Election Commission headquarters Downtown at 157 Poplar Ave.

With the 15 satellite sites now open, early voting daily totals jumped from 195 on Friday to 1,479 on Saturday to 1,458 Monday.

The current issue of The Memphis News features a cover story on the issue’s short path to the ballot.

The 22-word ballot question is the fifth in four months that Memphis voters have been asked to decide.

The Nov. 2 ballot featured four ballot questions along with the regularly scheduled election cycle featuring general election contests for state and federal offices.

The addition of those election contests makes comparisons to or conclusions about the March 8 special election ballot difficult if not impossible.

More than 59,000 Memphians voted early in the metro consolidation charter question on the November ballot. The early vote accounted for less than half of the total vote in Memphis on the question.

The Memphis early vote totals were lower on the two November ballot questions that involved amendments to the city charter on residency requirements and reversing an earlier charter amendment staggering city council terms and moving city elections to even numbered years.

A total of 56,935 Memphis voters cast early ballots on the residency question while 56,321 voted early on the city elections question.

Those totals were also less than half of the total votes case on each question.

All of the questions were approved by city voters. The consolidation charter failed because it had to also win approval in the county outside the city. County voters defeated the consolidation charter by a wide margin in that referendum.

The fourth ballot question on the November ballot was a statewide referendum to amend the Tennessee Constitution to specifically make hunting and fishing a personal right. It drew 98,494 early voters countywide. It won overwhelmingly, with the 178,358 yes votes the top vote total in Shelby County for any ballot question or candidate on the ballot.

As the week began, both sides had reached preacher parity with proponents of the Memphis City Schools charter surrender rolling out their group of religious leaders urging citizens to vote yes on the ballot question.

The ministers group that came out for the ballot question last week includes Rev. James Netters, a former city council member, Rev. Ralph White, who had been a candidate for local office and most recently served on the Metro Charter Commission and Rev. Cheryl Cornish, pastor of First Congregational Church.

Opponents of the consolidation question have included Rev. Dwight Montgomery, leader of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and members of the Baptist Ministerial Association.

Montgomery and the ministerial association members were involved early in the fast moving political drama, teaming with suburban leaders and the Memphis Education Association.

Montgomery has been a part of numerous forums on the ballot questions, including one last week before the Memphis Area Association of Realtors.

“This is a heavily divided community on consolidation,” Montgomery told the group of more than 100. “How can we have a unified school system in a heavily divided community?”

Montgomery was the only one of four speakers at the forum who isn’t directly involved in the events that led to the schools consolidation referendum. But he had all of the applause lines during the forum.

As the other three speakers focused on the nuts and bolts of schools consolidation, Montgomery stuck to a broader position.

“I wouldn’t want to move to a city where people are so divided, so confused,” he said. “I don’t see one Memphis.”

Meanwhile, The Leadership Academy is encouraging alumni of its leadership training program to apply themselves or submit names of others to be considered by the Shelby County Commission for appointment to a countywide school board.

Commissioners meet Wednesday in committee sessions to talk with their attorneys and decide on a redistricting plan for the Shelby County school board that the full commission would vote on at its Feb. 28 meeting.

The ordinance up for third and final reading would expand the current board to include districts in the city of Memphis making it a countywide school board.