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VOL. 129 | NO. 8 | Monday, January 13, 2014

Dueling Election Databases Make Tracking Difficult

By Bill Dries

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If ever the political axiom of needing a scorecard to keep up with the players applied to an election cycle, it would be the set of three elections in 2014 across Shelby County.

The 2014 election cycle promises one of the largest ballots in Shelby County political history with the August county general and state and federal primary elections. The Shelby County Election Commission has two lists of candidates considering the many races and they do not match.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The middle election of the three – the August ballot of county general elections and state and federal primary elections – is expected to be one of the longest in the county’s political history, if not the longest.

But the two “scorecards” kept electronically by the Shelby County Election Commission don’t match up, making it hard to know who has a qualifying petition out and who has filed their petition, and even more difficult to know some of the basic information like a candidate’s address on their qualifying petition.

After some complaints about the discrepancy, the Election Commission sent a tweet Thursday reading “There is only one list,” with a link to the list, which is called the “short list.”

The same tab that takes those on the website, www.shelbyvote.com, to the short list can also take viewers to another list that those on the website can use to search for a specific candidate’s petition by name or pull up a second list of candidates.

As of the end of the business day Thursday, Jan. 9, the short list of who has a petition out and who has filed has 24 more names listed as having pulled petitions than in the candidate search database and three more names of candidates who had filed than the candidate search database.

And one candidate who turns up in the searchable database as having pulled a petition wasn’t on the short list.

Such information is a vital part of the local political grapevine in any election year. And the database that is searchable by name provides a would-be candidate’s address and contact information, which can be used to determine or potentially challenge residency.

The database, however, has never included copies of the completed petitions with the signatures of citizens that the Election Commission checks to verify a candidate has qualified to run.

The dueling databases are the only real-time sources on who has pulled a petition and/or filed because this election year the commission has done away with a ledger where prospective candidates’ names and the positions they were interested in was hand written.

That took effect late last year when the first filing period opened for those running in the May county primaries.

Assuming the short list, which is actually longer than the searchable database list, is correct, several interesting races are taking shape.

Juvenile Court Chief Magistrate Dan Michael and Memphis City Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon each have pulled petitions for a highly anticipated nonpartisan race for Juvenile Court Judge to succeed outgoing Judge Curtis Person Jr.

City Court Clerk Thomas E. Long pulled a petition just before the new year to run in the Democratic primary for Criminal Court clerk. Republican incumbent Kevin Key is seeking re-election.

Former city of Memphis Public Services Director Kenneth Moody has pulled a petition to run in the Democratic primary for Juvenile Court clerk in a primary skirmish with Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks. But a third candidate in the primary, Cynthia Gentry, has already filed.

Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey has his petition out for re-election in District 31. He pulled the petition the day before he held a fundraiser in Germantown. In the invitation, Kelsey said he expects to be targeted by Tennessee Democrats in the re-election bid.

So far, no challengers in the Democratic primary have pulled petitions.

Most of the judicial incumbents on the August ballot showed up in two waves, one on the Jan. 3 opening day of their filing period and again on Jan. 6. There was a glitch in the printer for the petitions on opening day that was quickly resolved.

Six of the nine Circuit Court incumbents have petitions out. Circuit Court Judge Kay Robilio retired in September to settle a formal ethics complaint filed by the state Board of Judicial Conduct.

Two of the three chancellors, Judges Walter Evans and Kenny Armstrong, have petitions out.

The third incumbent in Chancery Court, Arnold Goldin, was appointed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to the Tennessee Court of Appeals to take that office Sept. 1.

Seven of the 10 Shelby County Criminal Court judges have re-election petitions circulating so far.

So do both incumbent Probate Court judges, Kathleen Gomes and Karen Webster.

In the six civil divisions of General Sessions Court, five of the six incumbents have pulled petitions. And eight of the nine incumbents in General Sessions Criminal Court have as well.

Feb. 20 is the filing deadline in the May county primaries. April 3 is the filing deadline in the August county judicial races and the state and federal primaries.

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