VOL. 129 | NO. 88 | Tuesday, May 6, 2014
By Bill Dries
Shelby County voters will begin the process Tuesday, May 6, of electing a majority of new members to a Shelby County Commission that will also change to a set of 13 single-member districts when the winners take office on Sept. 1.
Technician Phillip Stackhouse inspects voting machines at Shelby County Election Commission Operations Center. Polls across Shelby County are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
The change from the current structure of multi-member districts that gave a single voter in four of the five commission districts three selections is one of the biggest political changes locally no matter who wins the primaries Tuesday to advance to the August county general election ballot.
Polls across Shelby County are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Follow the election results @tndpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols, once the polls close at 7 p.m. with stories at The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com, summarizing the early vote totals and the overall unofficial returns once they are complete.
The commission races share the spotlight with a hard-fought three-way Democratic primary for Shelby County mayor among former Shelby County Schools board member Kenneth Whalum Jr., County Commissioner Steve Mulroy and former County Commissioner Deidre Malone.
In the last week of the campaign what had been a primary race with few elbows thrown among the Democratic trio intensified. Malone accused Mulroy of injecting race into the contest with a robo-call or recorded phone pitch to voters that noted Malone’s past support of African-American candidates including Democratic challengers of U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. Mulroy denied playing the race card and said the accusation shows Malone is unfit to be county mayor.
Whalum has consistently faulted both for supporting the merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems.
The winner of the Democratic primary will meet Republican incumbent Mayor Mark Luttrell in the August county general election. Luttrell faces token opposition Tuesday from perennial candidate Ernie Lunati.
At the outset of the campaign, all three Democratic contenders pledged to support and unify behind whoever won the primary.
Democrats are seeking to improve an abysmal performance in the August 2010 county general election when Republicans swept every countywide office on the ballot that year.
Shelby County voters will go to the polls Tuesday for a number of countywide positions.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
The Republican primaries for the countywide offices have been much quieter by contrast because of what happened four years ago as eight incumbents holding countywide office seek re-election this year. Six are running unopposed in their primaries.
The county primary elections feature 83 candidates in Democratic and Republican primary contests for the 13 seats on the Shelby County Commission and 11 countywide offices.
At least seven new commission members will ultimately be elected to the commission because six of the current commissioners are term-limited to two consecutive terms and are currently serving their second term. Commissioner Chris Thomas, the seventh commissioner, is not seeking re-election following his hiring last year as Lakeland city manager.
Seventeen primary races are uncontested one-candidate affairs that were effectively decided at the filing deadline.
Among them are the Democratic and Republican primaries for district attorney general and Shelby County sheriff.
In the district attorney general’s race, Republican incumbent Amy Weirich and Democratic challenger Joe Brown advance to the August ballot.
In the sheriff’s race, Republican incumbent Bill Oldham and Democratic challenger Bennie Cobb advance to the August ballot.
Seven of the 26 primary contests for the County Commission seats, with a Democratic and Republican primary for each position, have no candidate on the ballot in one of the two primaries. And in five of the seven sets, the winner of Tuesday’s election will have been elected to the seat with no opposition by independent candidates in the August county general election. The other two commission races feature independent candidates who meet the primary winners on the August ballot.
The election cycle is the sixth set of primaries held for the ballot that features the races for County Commission and county mayor since the Shelby County Republican Party decided to hold partisan primaries in the other smaller county election cycle in 1992.
The Shelby County Democratic Party followed suit several elections later after initially nominating its candidates through its executive committee.
In none of the five previous sets of primary elections has voter turnout hit 20 percent.
The turnout four years ago was 11.1 percent.
Through Thursday, May 1, the last day of the early voting period in advance of Tuesday’s election day, 26,298 citizens cast early ballots in the Shelby County primaries. That’s lower than the 31,029 early voters in the same election cycle four years ago for most of the same offices.
By percentage, the early vote turnout was 4.9 percent of Shelby County’s 533,579 voters.
There are no general elections on the May ballot. And 71.1 percent of the early voters cast their ballots in the Democratic primaries with the remaining 28.9 percent in the Republican primary.