The first day of early voting in the suburbs in advance of the Aug. 2 election day saw a noticeable jump in voter turnout and some problems at polling places in Bartlett.
Voting opened Monday, July 16, at 20 satellite voting sites across Shelby County.
The Tennessee State Department reported 5,061 citizens cast early ballots on Monday with 2,953 voting in the Republican primaries on the ballot and 1,980 voting in the Democratic primaries. That would mean 128 voters voted on the general election items and passed on the primaries.
The 5,061 early votes on Monday compare to 3,321 early voters four years ago for the same election cycle on the first day that balloting opened at 18 satellite sites.
The state numbers don’t indicate where the early voters cast their ballots and the Shelby County Election Commission had not updated its daily totals including voting location by press time.
The problems in Bartlett involved distinguishing between voters who live in precincts where some voters live in Bartlett and some don’t live within the city’s boundaries. Election officials were not always adding the correct coding to machines for the Bartlett voters that would pull up touch-screen ballots that included the referendum votes there on forming a municipal school district.
The early voting period continues through July 28.
Shelby County Commissioners were so intense Monday in their debate of a $15 million allocation of funding for a computer system to be used for the merged school system to come in August 2013, that one commissioner felt compelled to remind others that the municipal referendums are not a referendum on the schools merger that Memphis voters decided in March 2011.
Commissioner Brent Taylor did the reminding after fellow Commissioner Terry Roland questioned whether the funding was being approved now to get around having to provide a share of funding based on average daily attendance to municipal school districts that might be formed.
“That’s exactly what this boils down to,” Roland said. “How are you going to do that if you don’t know how big the (merged) school system is going to be?”
The municipal school districts would mean a smaller consolidated countywide school system.
But to Taylor, it sounded like an effort to slow down the consolidation as balloting begins on the municipal districts or “hold hostage” the consolidated school system.
“The choice that comes up … is are we going to have municipal school systems and a unified school system. A unified school system is a given,” Taylor said. “The only question is whether or not we are going to have municipal school districts.”
Countywide school board chairman Billy Orgel echoed the point. “We’re going to have a merged system,” he said, adding the computer system includes provisions for paying teachers and other staff in that school system. “I think they want to get paid.”
The item was approved.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, launched his ballot of endorsements Monday by acknowledging Democratic Party fears that the large suburban turnout could sweep Democratic incumbents Cheyenne Johnson and Ed Stanton – the property assessor and General Sessions Court clerk, respectively, out of office. They are the only two Democrats currently holding countywide office after the GOP sweep of the rest of the offices in the 2010 county general elections.
“This is, I think, a true test of Shelby County voters,” Cohen said. “Incumbents who have done a good job, delivered and not brought shame upon the citizenry and the institution of government deserve to be re-elected, independent of their party and independent of their race and their gender.”
He then introduced Johnson and Stanton as candidates who “happen to be Democrats.”
Cohen didn’t endorse any Republicans on his ballot. But he did pass on endorsing anyone in the race for Shelby County district attorney general between Republican incumbent Amy Weirich and Democratic challenger Carol Chumney.
Weirich has been endorsed by Democrats including council members Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn. Cohen said he hoped Republican voters would remember that.
“I was not tempted to endorse. But I did not endorse and that is in some ways whatever you want to make of it,” Cohen said. “But it’s a statement that I’m not going to endorse somebody who I don’t think is not the most experienced person who has a record. That took a lot. I gave Carol Chumney birth in 1990.”
Cohen was referring to his support of Chumney in her initial bid for the state House when Cohen was a state senator.