VOL. 129 | NO. 139 | Friday, July 18, 2014
‘Big Ballot’ Moves to Early Voting Friday
By Bill Dries
Voters begin making their decisions Friday, July 18, on the longest ballot of any election cycle in Shelby County politics.
Early voting in advance of the Aug. 7 election day begins Friday at the Shelby County Election Commission’s Downtown offices, 157 Poplar Ave., from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
The ballot features hotly contested races for Shelby County mayor, sheriff and district attorney general as well as Juvenile Court judge and the Democratic Congressional primary between incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and challenger Ricky E. Wilkins.
The statewide primary ballot includes a lively four-way Democratic primary for U.S. Senate dominated by attorneys Terry Adams and Gordon Ball of Knoxville, while Republican incumbent Lamar Alexander faces tea party opposition from state Rep. Joe Carr in the seven-way GOP primary that also includes Memphis physician and former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn.
The primary races for the Tennessee Legislature in Shelby County are led by the Democratic primary for state Senate District 29, in which incumbent Ophelia Ford faces stiff opposition from Memphis City Council member Lee Harris for the seat held by members of the Ford family since 1975.
Early voting expands to include 20 satellite locations Monday, July 21, through Aug. 2.
Visit shelbyvote.com for locations and hours.
The combination of state and federal primaries and the county general election – including races for the county school board and judicial positions – is also one of the most confusing for voters.
In all, 263 candidates are running in 160 primary and general election races. Candidates in 48 of those – or 30 percent – are running unopposed. That doesn’t include the 23 judicial retention races for state appellate courts.
A dozen races, most of them in the state legislative primaries, have no candidates.
Two County Commission candidates, Alvin Crook and Taylor Berger, conceded to their opponents after their names were already on the August ballot.
The most races facing any voter would be 83; the fewest possible is 76, for a voter who chooses not to participate in the primaries.
Shelby County Commission races are a regular part of this election cycle, but the commission districts change dramatically when the winners take office Sept. 1. That’s when the body shifts to 13 single-member districts from its current format, which includes one single-member district and four districts with three members each.
At least seven of the 13 commissioners, will be new to the body.
The judicial races have seen intense competition this time around, with the candidates using billboards and other campaign tools in a political scramble that includes five open judgeships with no incumbent seeking re-election and, outside of the statewide judicial races, only 10 judicial incumbents running unopposed.
Eight years ago, only one judicial race for a state trial court position had no incumbent, and 20 incumbent judges ran unopposed.
Over the last 40 years, the so-called big ballot has never drawn a simple majority of the county’s voters.
In that time, turnout in the election cycle has ranged from a high of 43.6 percent in August 1974 to a low of 25.5 percent in August 1998.
Voters in the 1974 elections were still electing county constables, a position that would be abolished a few years later in the state constitutional convention. That ballot also included the referendum questions that restructured county government in the coming years and established the office of county mayor in 1975.
The closest race of the 1974 ballot was the contest for district attorney general, in which incumbent Hugh Stanton Jr. beat out Odell Horton, who later became a federal court judge.
Horton later complained that the length of the ballot was likely a factor in his loss to Stanton. The ballot that year also included races for the executive committees of the state Democratic and Republican parties, as were races for the executive committees of the Shelby County Democratic and Republican parties. Those races were later moved off the ballot to be decided by local party caucuses and county conventions.