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VOL. 129 | NO. 145 | Monday, July 28, 2014

Signs, Space Occupy Final Weeks of Elections

By Bill Dries

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In the closing weeks of the summer campaign to the Aug. 7 election day, the political struggle has come to the place all hard-fought campaigns ultimately come at this point – signs and space.

Election signs, like these seen at Third Street and Poplar Avenue, are playing a role in the closing weeks of the August elections. There have been accusations that some campaign signs are being stolen and vandalized.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The signs are as literal as the campaign signs that U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s campaign manager claims are being stolen and vandalized at an “unprecedented level.”

They are also as figurative as Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Bryan Carson’s request for federal election monitors, the latest indication that some Democrats are likely to contest the election results in court. It would be the latest in a series of legal challenges of county election results by Democratic contenders in the last eight years.

At early voting sites across the county, the space could be measured in the elbow room just outside the 100-foot mark from polling places – the distance at which attempts to sway voters can begin.

The specific space is Bethel Church in Bartlett, where Democratic poll workers took offense to a sign posted on a Republican campaign’s tent that read “Please no Democrat campaign workers or literature under this tent. Thank you.”

Poll workers for Democratic state Rep. Antonio Parkinson responded with signs on their tent reading “All are welcome” and “It’s hot. Have a seat because we care.”

Carson’s call for federal election monitors, which have been a routine part of Memphis elections for decades, came after problems at other early voting sites.

A construction crew with a truckload of rocks at Agricenter International on Thursday, July 24, dumped them on the fiber-optic line that links to the Shelby County Election Commission’s voter registration database there and at other early voting sites. The database is used to make sure voters get the right district races on their ballot.

With the connection down, voters had to fill out early voting applications by hand.

Carson and Bennie Cobb, the Democratic nominee for sheriff, claimed some early voters cast absentee ballots while the database was down, but the election commission had no reports of absentee ballots being used. And the forms being filled out by voters were applications to vote early in person.

Meanwhile, the request for Justice Department election monitors comes as attorney Julian Bolton has formally requested U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton investigate “irregularities in this county’s election process.”

Bolton, representing former school board member Martavius Jones, is referring specifically to Jones’ dispute of election results in the May Democratic primary for Shelby County Commission District 10.

Jones lost by 26 votes to Reginald Milton in the certified election results. The election commission rejected Jones’ challenge, as did a Tennessee Democratic Party primary board.

At issue were tapes showing the vote tally from three of the four election day voting machines at the precinct at Rozelle Elementary School. Jones and Bolton claimed then and still claim the results from those three machines shouldn’t be valid because the election commission violated procedures for printing and reading the tape tallies.

But election commissioners and state party leaders who dismissed the attempt to overturn the election results argued the procedure violations were not significant enough to throw out the ballots cast on the three voting machines in question.

Milton complained that the dispute within the party wasn’t helping its overall cause of winning races, with Republican commission nominee Geoff Diaz campaigning hard in the District 10 general election campaign.

Bolton told Shelby County commissioners last week that the dispute is part of a pattern he said explains low voter turnout in recent elections.

“I ask you not to take this lightly,” Bolton said at last week’s county commission session. “We need to take a close look at what’s going on over there. … We are being denied fair and free elections.”

Commissioners voted to refer Bolton’s complaint to the county attorneys’ office for review.

Bolton’s point about low turnout is at the heart of the local Democratic Party’s effort to avenge the Republican sweep of every countywide office four years ago – most of them the same offices on the ballot this August.

Many of the candidates who lost in the sweep four years ago unsuccessfully contested the election results in a Chancery Court lawsuit just as some of the Democratic nominees did in 2006, the previous “big ballot” election cycle that included the once-every-eight-year judicial races on the ballot again this August.

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396