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VOL. 129 | NO. 149 | Friday, August 1, 2014

End in Sight

Early voting comes to close as election day looms

By Bill Dries

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One more weekend of early voting and then it’s the four-day sprint to election day for candidates, their campaigns and the voters who didn’t vote during the early voting period.

Agricenter International, one of Shelby County’s early voting sites, could see a late push as early voting ends Saturday before next week’s election day.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Because of the length of the ballot – the longest of any election cycle in Shelby County political history – state election officials are encouraging voters who have made their decisions to vote early.

“We need people to go vote early to decrease the lines on election day,” Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said Wednesday, July 30, from Nashville. “If people know how they are going to vote, we want them to go ahead and take advantage of early voting.”

Hargett’s office includes the state functions that supervise voting across the state of Tennessee. The big ballot that includes once-every-eight-year judicial races is not unique to Shelby County.

“We need people to go vote early to decrease the lines on election day.”

–Tre Hargett

The trial court and appellate court judicial races at the local and state levels, respectively, are all grouped together in the same election cycle by the Tennessee Constitution.

Hargett and Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins say statewide through Wednesday, voter turnout appeared to be approximately 10 percent higher than it was four years ago when most of the offices were on the ballot, excluding the judicial races.

And their checks with elections officials across the state indicates the big ballot is taking voters between five and eight and a half minutes to complete on average.

Some voters may only vote in a few races. Others may vote in most but not all. Still others will vote the entire ballot.

In Shelby County, through Wednesday, 57,988 citizens had voted early. The early voting period runs through Saturday, Aug. 2.

The numbers through Wednesday compare to 65,807 early voters at that point four years ago. With several days left in the 2010 early voting period that was more than the total of 55,888 for the entire early voting period in 2006, the last big ballot election in Shelby County.

Voting the big ballot is a race in more ways than one. Experienced early voters who want to avoid the attention of a pack of campaign poll workers pick a parking place as close as they can get to the wooden stakes that surround every polling place for early voting and election day.

Judge Karen D. Webster supporter Betsy Robinson works the polling location at Mississipp Boulevard Christian Church.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The wooden stakes are the 100-foot markers beyond which there is supposed to be no campaigning.

Given the length of the August ballot and the resulting intensity of some of the campaigns in the competition, some early voters have run to the polls as they see a wave of partisans coming toward them shouting slogans with endorsement ballots and other campaign literature in hand.

Some of the endorsements continued to be disputed at week’s end.

The president of the Memphis local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Wednesday she and other “authorized leaders” of the local union endorsed Ricky E. Wilkins in the 9th District Democratic Congressional primary over incumbent Steve Cohen without the municipal union’s membership being polled on the race.

Janice Hooker Chalmers responded the day after Wilkins showed up at the union’s headquarters Downtown to claim the endorsement.

Cohen had previously claimed the union’s endorsement as well.

Wilkins has accused Cohen of using intimidation to reverse a decision made by the union’s leadership.

Chalmers said she agreed to a Tuesday press conference with Wilkins to announce the union was endorsing Wilkins. But she said she then got a call from the union’s national office “which caused me to cancel Local 1733’s participation in the press conference and to question Cohen’s endorsement, which had been claimed without AFSCME local 1733 knowledge.”

“I refuse to deny that local 1733 endorsed Mr. Wilkins and further refuse to deny that I confirmed the endorsement with him,” Chalmers added.

Meanwhile, local election commissioners fielded a complaint from one early voting site of an election officer telling voters “they need/had to vote Republican,” according to election commissioner Norma Lester in a July 25 email.

Lester said a woman named “Faye” heard the election officer tell a voter approaching the early voting site at Riverside Baptist Church in South Memphis that and saw the voter turn around to walk away. Faye said she told the voter that wasn’t true and escorted her inside the polling place.

Lester forwarded the complaint to Elections Administrator Richard Holden, who replied that “apparently the (election official) did not perform up to the standard set by Faye.”

Lester thought his response was “cavalier” and the incident was “a serious violation of a voter’s right to the extent of intimidation for an election official to tell them they had to vote for any specific party or person.”

“That is a problem not to be dismissed,” Lester added.

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