VOL. 130 | NO. 199 | Tuesday, October 13, 2015
2016 Elections Already Taking Shape
By Bill Dries
Back in September, when the Memphis mayor’s race was still a race, Shelby County General Sessions Court clerk Ed Stanton walked out of his office at the Shelby County Courthouse, crossed both cratered and potholed lanes of Washington Avenue, entered the Shelby County Election Commission offices and kicked off the 2016 campaign season.
On Sept. 11, Stanton picked up a qualifying petition to run for re-election in the 2016 county elections. It was the first day for candidates to pull petitions and they have until Dec. 10 to file.
The clerk’s race is the only countywide office on the ballot next year with the county primary for the office on March 1 at the same time as the Tennessee presidential primaries.
“We think it’s very important that this generation get engaged.”
Tennessee Secretary of State
Meanwhile, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett was touring college campuses in September – just after the academic year started – in preparation for the presidential election year.
“We think it’s very important that this generation get engaged,” Hargett said during a visit to the University of Memphis, where he met with student government leaders after similar stops at Rhodes College and Southwest Tennessee Community College. “We want to encourage them to register to vote and then be educated consumers with their vote and then participate in the process next year as we select the next president.”
About 13.4 percent of Shelby County’s 542,879 registered voters cast a ballot in the 2012 presidential and county primaries, and of those, 43.4 percent were 65 and older. College-age voters, on the other hand, accounted for a much smaller percentage of the 72,711 voters: 1.2 percent were ages 18 to 24, and 4.7 percent were ages 25 to 34.
The age breakdown – with the highest turnout among older voters and decreasing by age – is consistent among both citywide and countywide election cycles, including last week’s Memphis elections. Though statistics for election day voters have not yet been released, the age breakdown of the 51,847 early voters shows 1.6 percent were ages 18 to 24, and 5 percent were ages 25-34.
The presidential primaries usually draw a low overall turnout of around 15 percent in Shelby County, while the presidential general election in November draws the largest of any countywide election cycle at 60 to 75 percent of all voters.
“Every four years, that’s the one that drives turnout,” Hargett said. “In November, that’s when both parties and the candidates come in guns blazing, trying to drive turnout and that’s what people tend to stay focused on.
“What I want people to understand is that the local and the state elections affect your everyday lives as well,” said the former state legislator from Bartlett. “It’s not enough to get engaged every four years and go vote for president. You need to be engaged in local politics. You need to be engaged in state politics and be an educated consumer with your vote.”
Hargett thinks the presidential primary turnout could be better this March because Tennessee will be among the southern states that are part of what is being called the “SEC primaries” – a reference to the college football conference that covers the same states.
“I think we’ll see a lot of candidates coming through,” he said. “I think as the field narrows a little bit, I think it’s going to get a lot of candidates to figure out where they are going to focus their energy. I think Tennessee’s going to see a lot of activity.”
Shelby County is home to the largest base of both Democratic and Republican voters of any single county in the state. The Democratic base is within the city of Memphis, while the Republican base is in the county outside the Memphis city limits.
In Shelby County, Republican presidential contender Ben Carson was an early visitor in January 2014 at the annual HopeWorks annual breakfast – before he was a confirmed candidate for the GOP nomination.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas campaigned for the Republican nomination in Memphis in August, drawing a large crowd to Agricenter International.
The Democratic and Republican primaries for General Sessions Court clerk are the only local primaries on the ballot with the presidential primaries.
Stanton, a Democrat, has no potential opposition so far, according to the list posted by the Shelby County Election Commission.
That could change as some of the candidates who didn’t win in last week’s city elections tie up loose ends then begin to consider their political futures and whether to run for office again.