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VOL. 131 | NO. 29 | Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Early Voting Opens in Tennessee Presidential Primaries

By Bill Dries

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Tennesseans can begin casting their ballots in the presidential primaries on Wednesday, Feb. 10, the day after the votes were counted in New Hampshire on the political road to the summer conventions.

Early voting in Shelby County begins Wednesday at the Shelby County Office Building, 157 Poplar Ave., before branching out to 20 other satellite locations starting Monday, Feb. 15.

The last day for early voting is Feb. 23.

Visit the Shelby County Election Commission’s website, shelbyvote.com, for the locations and hours.

Republican primary voters will see many more names on their ballot than the 14 presidential contenders because they’ll also be choosing a slate of delegates along with their candidates.

Democrats don’t vote on delegates; instead, they’re selected at two local conventions with a different formula that is also based on the popular votes cast.

Tennessee’s primaries will be influenced by what happens in New Hampshire and other stops before this state’s March 1 election day.

Presidential contenders gain or lose momentum in the set of primaries and caucuses across the country on the way to the summer political conventions.

And then there are the contenders who throw in the towel before Tennessee’s March 1 primary election day but nevertheless remain on the ballot. As New Hampshire votes were being cast Tuesday, four of the 14 Republican contenders had already either suspended their campaigns or gotten out of the race: Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum.

Huckabee carried Shelby County in the 2008 Tennessee primary, while Santorum carried the county in 2012.


Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race after the Iowa caucuses but remains listed in the Tennessee primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The Sanders campaign formally opens its Memphis campaign headquarters Saturday, Feb. 13, at 2869 Poplar Ave. in the Chickasaw Crossing Shopping Center. Clinton’s campaign announced this week it intends to open a campaign office in Memphis within the next week.


Republican contender Donald Trump told his local supporters, including County Commission chairman Terry Roland, that he will make a campaign stop in Memphis after the New Hampshire primaries. But Trump’s campaign hasn’t set a date yet, and Roland said Monday there likely won’t be a lot of advance notice before the Memphis stop.

That’s normal for presidential campaigns, which typically include five or more stops in a day in different cities and towns, with one event usually being the centerpiece and the others echoing the message of the day.

Several Republicans contenders have made local stops as they work to woo voters. Ted Cruz made a Memphis campaign stop at the Agricenter over the summer. Ben Carson later campaigned in West Memphis. And Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush each held closed fundraising events in Shelby County during the fall.

Tennessee’s largest base of Democratic voters is in Memphis, while the state’s largest base of Republican voters is within Shelby County outside of the Memphis city limits.

That makes the county important for both parties. But historically, by the time the Tennessee primary rolls around – sometimes as late as May – candidates in both parties usually start picking the states they have the best chances in to win the nomination and which states they will concede to someone else.

Having the largest base of voters in either column is no guarantee all of that base will turn out for the primary either.

The presidential general election in November is the most popular election cycle in Shelby County by turnout – the only one that regularly draws more than half of the county’s voters. Yet the primaries have never hit 40 percent of the county’s voters since the 1972 primaries, the first to be tied to the awarding of convention delegates.

The 39.2 percent Shelby County turnout in 1972 was the highest percentage in the 40-year history of the Tennessee presidential primaries.

The county’s turnout in 2012 was 11 percent; in 2008 it was 24.1 percent.

The lowest countywide turnout in the 40-year election cycle was 9.8 percent in 2000, when then-Vice President Al Gore, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee, was on his way to becoming the Democratic presidential nominee.

Gore would lose his home state to Republican nominee George W. Bush in that year’s general election.

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