VOL. 129 | NO. 153 | Thursday, August 7, 2014
Polls Open Under Eye of Federal Monitors
By Bill Dries
Memphis Democrats declared victory two days before the Thursday, Aug. 7, election day in Shelby County.
The polls will be open Thursday, Aug. 7, across Shelby County from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the county general and state and federal primary elections.
(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
It wasn’t anything they saw in the early voting turnout numbers. The turnout there was less than it was four years ago in the set of county general election and state and federal primary races.
In one of the liveliest races on the long ballot of 263 candidates running in 150 races, incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen was still locked in an endorsement scuffle with challenger Ricky Wilkins in the Democratic congressional primary.
The cause of celebration was word Tuesday that the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department would provide federal agents to monitor the conduct of Thursday’s election in Memphis.
The polls in Shelby County are open Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Follow the election returns @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols with Web stories at www.memphisdailynews.com on the early voting results and the unofficial returns for that and election day at the end of the evening.
The closing days of the campaign, between the end of early voting and the opening of polls Thursday morning, were dominated by calls from Democrats for federal monitoring of election returns because of “irregularities” in past elections and “voter intimidation and voting fraud.”
In addition to the push by state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, attorney Julian Bolton and Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Bryan Carson, Cohen also called for the monitors.
Cohen, in a Monday letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, said Shelby County voters “face an ongoing threat to this fundamental right because of the inability of the Shelby County Election Commission to properly administer elections.”
Cohen cited reports to his office during the early voting period that voters were not being allowed to bring endorsement ballots with them into the polls and a voter who said he was told by an election official that he could only vote in the Republican primary.
“Ongoing federal oversight of the commission would also be appropriate until it has demonstrated it can perform its duties without incident,” Cohen added in his letter.
Shelby County Election Commission Chairman Robert Meyers, meanwhile, said he welcomed the election monitors.
“I believe this further supports our continued commitment to transparency,” Meyers said.
Federal election monitors have been a regular feature of Memphis elections since at least the 1970s.
And the city’s history of raucous and even violent election days goes back much further.
The recent history of Election Commission problems across several elections in recent years has drawn enough criticism that the claims have some sticking power.
And the issue is one more distraction from the longest ballot of any election cycle in Shelby County politics.
The length of the ballot itself has contributed to the distractions with numerous endorsement ballots awaiting voters. It follows a summer of campaign events in which the pack of candidates in attendance often outnumbered those citizens not running for office and not working in anyone’s campaign.
Rarely was there an event in which just one candidate spoke. When there was, just introducing the candidates in the audience for a quick wave to the crowd could take a good 10 minutes. And if a candidate host thought there was a manageable number of candidates in the crowd to allow them to speak, he or she would often find the line to speak was much longer than expected.
Some candidates forged friendships in the close quarters. Others made future political connections if not friendships.
Some will be back and others will not.
In some ways they are a kind of class of 2014. But it’s unlikely anyone will be calling a reunion any time within the reach of memories and grudges about downed yard signs, attack robo-calls and other political misadventures.
State election officials estimated it was taking early voters across the state an average of five to eight and a half minutes to vote the big ballot across the state. And statewide, the early voter turnout was up.
“We are hearing that voters are saying the ballot is very long once they start the process,” Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said during early voting as he added it didn’t appear the length of the ballot was a deterrent to voting.