VOL. 133 | NO. 73 | Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Early Voting Opens for May County Primaries
By Bill Dries
Early voting in the first of three 2018 elections in Shelby County opens Wednesday at 21 sites across the county and runs through April 26.
The primaries are led by contests for county mayor, all 13 seats on the county commission and most of the county’s elected offices. The remainder are in the other even-year election cycle or have an eight-year term of office that comes around next in 2022.
The early voting sites and hours can be found at www.shelbyvote.com, the website of the Shelby County Election Commission. Daily early voter turnout will be tracked @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols overall and by primaries.
Early voting opens Wednesday across Shelby County for 23 county offices, with the winners on May 1 advancing to the August county general election. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)
Since county primaries for this election cycle began in 1994, turnout has never been higher than 18 percent. The 18 percent turnout came in 2002 when the primary ballot was topped by an open race for Shelby County mayor. There was the same turnout 12 years later in 2014 as Republican incumbents who swept the 2010 races for countywide offices from Democrats sought re-election.
In 2010, a cycle also featuring a race for county mayor with no elected incumbent, Democratic turnout – early vote and election day – was about 6,000 votes higher than Republican turnout. The Democratic turnout in the other countywide primaries that year ranged from 2,000 to 9,000 votes higher that the turnout in the Republican primaries.
Mark Luttrell, the Republican nominee and winner of the county general election that year, had token opposition in the 2010 mayoral primary.
The Democratic primary was a three-way contest among interim county mayor Joe Ford, who was appointed by his fellow commissioners following the resignation of A C Wharton who had been elected Memphis mayor, county commissioner Deidre Malone and former General Sessions Court Clerk Otis Jackson Jr.
Republicans swept every countywide race except one four years later. The exception was the race for Property Assessor.
Since 2014, the Shelby County Democratic Party was disbanded by the state party and rebuilt in the last year with mostly new members of its executive committee.
Local party chairman Corey Strong and other party leaders have worked to field candidates in every race.
The turnout in early voting will be the first indication of how successful the new wave of activism and involvement in the party has been in creating renewed interest since Donald Trump’s 2016 election as president in a county that was carried by Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Strong and other party leaders as well as local Republican Party leaders will be watching the turnout in both sets of primaries closely.
In the 2010 county primaries, the Republican primary for mayor drew 29,434 voters, compared to 35,571 in the Democratic mayoral primary.
In the 2014 county primaries, the Republican primary for mayor, in which Luttrell again had token opposition, drew 17,444 voters compared to 38,559 in the companion Democratic primary.
Since Tennessee voters don’t register to vote by indicating a party preference, there is no base of registered Democratic or Republican voters to indicate the turnout within the party.
For Republicans, the primary represents a shuffle of some familiar faces to different offices as some of those elected in the 2010 sweep are term-limited. They and some others who are not term-limited are seeking different offices.
The Shelby County Commission will have at least seven new members – a new majority – once the primaries and the August general elections are decided. Five of the seven incumbents not seeking re-election to the county commission are term-limited. The other two chose not to run after one term.
A total of 23 county offices are on the May ballot – 13 county commission seats and 10 countywide offices – with a Republican and a Democratic primary for each. The winners of the primaries advance to the Aug. 2 county general election, which will also include state and federal primary elections and races for county nonpartisan offices.
There are no Republican primary candidates for five county commission seats – districts 6, 8, 10, 11 and 12.
Meanwhile, Republican county commission candidates David C Bradford, Sam Goff, Sharon Webb and incumbent Republican commissioner Mark Bilingsley advance to the August county general election because they are unopposed in the primaries.
So does Dale Lane in the Republican primary for sheriff, incumbent Republican Criminal Court Clerk Richard DeSaussure and Wayne Mashburn in the Republican primary for Register of Deeds.
That leaves 11 contested Republican primary contests topped by the three-way race for county mayor between County Commissioner Terry Roland, Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos and Trustee David Lenoir.
In the Democratic primaries, commissioners Van Turner and Willie Brooks win another term of office when the polls close in May by virtue of having no opposition of any kind. They were effectively re-elected at the February filing deadline.
Democrats have candidates in each of the 23 races, with the seven-candidate field for the District 9 commission seat incumbent Democrat Justin Ford is giving up because of term limits being the largest.
Five of the Democratic primary races are one–candidate affairs with the winners advancing to the August general election to face Republican nominees and independent candidates.
That leaves 15 contested Democratic primary contests topped by the race to be the party’s nominee for county mayor between state Sen. Lee Harris and former County Commissioner Sidney Chism.