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VOL. 131 | NO. 225 | Thursday, November 10, 2016

County Has Lowest Voter Turnout in 12 Years

By Bill Dries

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Voter turnout in Shelby County for the 2016 presidential general election was 59.7 percent, according to unofficial returns posted by the Shelby County Election Commission early Wednesday, Nov. 9. That marks the lowest showing since the 2004 presidential general election, when turnout was 57 percent.

Shelby County voter turnout in the 2016 presidential general election was 59.7 percent, the lowest level for the election cycle since 2004. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton carried the county. Republican nominee and President-elect Donald Trump took the state and its 11 electoral votes.

(Daily News/Alan Howell)

The turnout is based on the 339,120 votes cast – early and election day – in the Election Commission’s delayed tally. The commission was still counting absentee votes Wednesday afternoon which could change the turnout percentage slightly.

The totals below reflect the unofficial vote without the absentee vote and will be changed once those are included.

The total number of absentee votes cast was 2,970, according to Election Commission turnout figures at the end of the early voting period.

It is one of only three times in the last 48 years that local voter turnout in a presidential general election has been below 60 percent. The third time was in the 2000 election when Shelby County turnout was 58.4 percent.

The first results in the 2016 elections weren’t posted until 10:25 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump won Tennessee’s 11 electoral votes in unofficial statewide election returns while Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried Shelby County in the popular vote.

Clinton conceded the national race to Trump early Wednesday morning as the local vote count was still incomplete.

Unofficial statewide results in the presidential general election from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office were:

Trump: 1,519,926 (61%)
Clinton: 868,853 (34.9%)

Unofficial final Shelby County results in the presidential popular vote were:

Clinton: 208,320 (62.2%)
Trump: 116,096 (34.6%)

The election night in Memphis featured another long and delayed vote count for a third consecutive presidential general election. In the 2008 and 2012 presidential general elections, the winning candidate had declared victory and the losing candidate had conceded before any vote totals were posted by the Shelby County Election Commission.

The Election Commission planned to begin processing the early and absentee votes at 9 a.m. Tuesday. But more than three hours after the polls closed, no votes had been posted on the Election Commission’s website.

Election workers said a memory card left at a polling place after voting ended Tuesday was to blame.

But such mistakes have been common in past elections and did not prevent the release of the early vote. In the past, those mistakes have slowed the vote count toward its conclusion.

Even with incomplete vote totals in which it was impossible to tell how many precincts had been counted into Wednesday morning, the outcome in many of the local, state and federal races were apparent.

In the general election contests for the two congressional seats covering Shelby County, 9th District Democratic incumbent Steve Cohen easily beat Republican challenger Wayne Alberson of Memphis. Alberson had no backing from the state Republican Party in the heavily Democratic district.

The unofficial totals showed:

Cohen: 171,070 (78.7%)
Alberson: 41,021 (18.8%)

In the 8th Congressional District, Germantown attorney David Kustoff claimed the seat covering 15 counties in West Tennessee including parts of Shelby County and Memphis now held by fellow Republican Stephen Fincher. 

Fincher announced in February he would not seek another two-year term to the seat.

Kustoff defeated Democratic nominee Rickey Hobson of Somerville in the heavily Republican district. Hobson had no help from the state Democratic Party.

Unofficial returns from the Secretary of State’s office across all 15 counties in the district were:

Kustoff: 194,155 (68.7%)
Hobson: 70,828 (25%)

Kustoff carried every county in the district except Haywood County.

Kustoff, a former U.S. attorney and former chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, emerged from a 13-candidate GOP primary in August to claim the party’s nomination.

In declaring victory early in the vote count as the national outcome between Clinton and Trump was still in doubt, Kustoff told supporters in East Memphis that his election was about “a different track and a different course.”

“If the winner is Donald Trump, it is my hope we can work together toward shaping a country that is once again strong at home and abroad,” he said. “If it is Hillary Clinton, make no mistake, I will fight each and every day to do everything I can to make sure that she will not take our country down the path set forth by her radical agenda. … Regardless of the outcome, I will do what I promised the voters. I will fight and I will lead in the House of Representatives.”

The day after, Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Trump’s election was about change and called on citizens to “put the election behind us.”

“Now it is the responsibility of the president-elect and the Congress to work together to address the voices of anger and despair, and of hope, that we heard yesterday,” Alexander said in a written statement. “That includes reducing Washington’s role in our lives, making it easier to find a good job and less expensive health care, and making our system more fair.”

Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker stated, “The real work now begins as we address the many challenges facing our great country, and I am looking forward to working with President Trump and the rest of the Congress to move our country forward.”

The local upset of the evening was in the state House general election contests in which Democrats picked up a seat in the 14-member Shelby County delegation.

Democratic challenger Dwayne Thompson upset District 96 Republican state Rep. Steve McManus of Cordova. 

Thompson’s victory is the only change in the partisan balance of the state House delegation from Shelby County, making it 10 Democrats and four Republicans.

Unofficial returns in the race are:

Thompson: 14,105 (50.6%)
McManus: 13,754 (49.3%)

Eight of the state House races were one-candidate affairs, with the winners decided in the August primaries with no opposition from the other party.

The Tuesday general election balloting confirmed the newest member of the Shelby County House delegation, Mark Lovell, who claimed the District 95 seat with an upset of Republican incumbent Curry Todd in the August primaries. Lovell had no Democratic or independent opposition on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The other seven unopposed House candidates were incumbents.

The two state Senate races on the Shelby County ballot were also one-candidate unopposed races in which state Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville and Democratic state Sen. Sara Kyle of Memphis were re-elected.

Meanwhile, Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner and Millington Mayor Terry Jones were re-elected to new four-year terms in suburban elections.

In a hotly contested race for Germantown alderman that became a reflection of a larger division across several elections about the city’s direction, alderman Dave Klevan, appointed to the position 3 seat held by Mike Palazzolo when Palazzolo was elected mayor in 2014, was beaten by challenger Dean Massey.

The unofficial returns were:

Massey: 10,008 (53.3%)
Klevan: 8,701 (46.4%)

Germantown Schools board incumbent Natalie Williams was upset in her re-election bid by challenger Suzanne Jones.

The unofficial returns were:

Jones: 11,915 (64.3%)
Williams: 6,574 (35.4%)

Also on the Germantown Schools board, Amy Eoff claimed the seat now held by Ken Hoover, who did not seek re-election. Eoff beat Mindy Fischer.

The unofficial results were:

Eoff: 10,722 (57%)
Fischer: 8,030 (42.7%)

All four ballot questions in Shelby County were approved by voters in the unofficial returns. Memphis voters approved a shift in Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division in-lieu-of-tax payments that increases city government’s share by $5 million and correspondingly reduces by $5 million county government’s share.

And in a countywide referendum, voters approved a county charter amendment that requires approval by the Shelby County Commission for a county mayor to fire a county attorney.

The countywide referendum on the county attorney’s office caps several years of internal debate between some commissioners and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell over the independence of the office appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the commission. Most commissioners favor having an attorney to advise the body independent of the county attorney, similar to the legal counsel used by the Memphis City Council.

But the county charter specifies that the county attorney is the only source of legal advice to the commission and the rest of county government, including the mayor.

The citywide vote on the new in-lieu-of-taxes split from MLGW also saw Luttrell come out against the proposal. Meanwhile, Memphis City Council members worked early voting sites in October and early November in favor of the new arrangement.

Lakeland voters approved two-term limits for the town’s board of commissioners and mayor. The term limits are different than those already in place for many city of Memphis and Shelby County elected officials in that it doesn’t specify a limit of two consecutive terms. The Lakeland limits are two terms, consecutive or not. It also specifies that someone elected to a term on the Lakeland commission and a term as mayor have reached the two-term limit and are then barred from running for or serving again in either position.

In the fourth ballot question, voters in unincorporated Shelby County approved the sale of wine in retail food stores.

The approval comes two years after votes in six of Shelby County’s seven towns and cities approved similar ballot questions that permitted wine sales in food stores.

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