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VOL. 133 | NO. 139 | Friday, July 13, 2018

Early Opening

Early voting begins Friday at five locations across Shelby County; more sites open Tuesday

By Bill Dries

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Early voting in advance of the Aug. 2 Election Day opens Friday, July 13, at five locations across Shelby County. On Tuesday, 22 additional sites will be open through July 28. Between the Shelby County Election Commission and Chancery Court there were three other sets of early-voting locations and hours in a three-week period before Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins signed off Tuesday afternoon on a fourth set.

The list of the early-voting sites and their hours and days can be found at www.shelbyvote.com, the website of the election commission.

Shelby County voters will be electing a new county mayor and a majority of new members to the county commission.

Heather Busch, left, and Donald Morgan review testing results of voting machines inside the Shelby County Election Operations warehouse on Wednesday, July 11. Technicians spend 20 to 45 minutes testing each machine to make sure it works properly prior to the start of early voting Friday, July 13. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Voters also will help decide statewide primaries toward electing a new governor in November.

The Republican primary contest to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has been among four major contenders. U.S. Rep. Diane Black and former Tennessee commissioner of economic and community development Randy Boyd have been locked in a heated campaign with attack ads questioning the conservative political credentials of the other and each claiming to be closer ideologically to President Donald Trump than the other.

Franklin businessman and political newcomer Bill Lee has been the target of some of Black’s attack ads as well.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell, meanwhile, has mounted a campaign that stresses her leadership in the House with Republican supermajorities.

The winner of the primary faces the winner of the Democratic primary between former Nashville mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley. Dean has touted his working with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature in a non-ideological way. Fitzhugh has campaigned as an experienced legislator willing to push Democratic policies and ideas.

Both have called for an expansion of TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid. Haslam attempted to win legislative approval of a Medicaid expansion at the outset of his second term in 2015. The effort was crushed in the Legislature, never reaching the floor for a vote in either chamber.

The hotly contested Republican primary for governor could have a lot to do with turnout in Shelby County.

Democrats, who lost every countywide race on the August 2010 ballot and all but one countywide race on the August 2014 ballot, were encouraged in the May county primaries by a higher turnout, with 44,801 voters.

Democratic turnout in all three sets of primaries in the same election cycle was higher than Republican turnout with Republicans pursuing a strategy of seeking local nominees capable of garnering cross-over votes in the county general election.

Jeremiah Allen, an employee for the Shelby County Election Commission, works Wednesday, July 11, on labeling voting signage at the Shelby County Election Operations warehouse on Nixon Drive. Early voting begins Friday, July 13. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

The four-way race in the Republican primary for governor also could boost Republican turnout in the August elections.

Republican turnout in the August election cycle four years ago in Shelby County was 64,803 voters compared to 62,072 Democrats and 18,357 Shelby County voters who passed on the primaries of either party and only voted the county general election ballot.

Overall countywide voter turnout in 2014 was 27 percent.

Turnout in both sets of primaries in August 2010 was higher with Republicans having a hard fought three-way primary for governor won by Haslam and Democrats locally having a high-volume Congressional primary race between U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen and former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton that Cohen won easily.

Republican primary turnout was 77,478 and Democratic turnout was 77,536 with 31,873 voters opting for the county general ballot only topped by the race to elect a new county mayor and sheriff won by Republicans Mark Luttrell and Bill Oldham respectively.

Overall countywide voter turnout in 2010 was 29.5 percent.

Republican nominees won six of eight countywide offices in the August 2006 elections.

But Democratic primary turnout was more than twice Republican turnout. A total of 90,262, by election commission reports, voted in the Democratic primaries compared to 42,175 in the Republican primaries with an overall percentage turnout of 27.2 percent including 32,000 who voted in the county general election only.

Kevin Bay,left, an employee for Watkins Uiberall PLLC, conducts auditing on machines that will be used for early voting at the Shelby County Election Operations warehouse. Employees of Watkinds Uiberall have been conduction audits for the Shelby County Election Commission for over 30 years. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

The Democratic primaries that August were led by a statewide U.S. Senate primary in which Memphis U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. carried the county and carried the state followed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s primary bid for a second term and a 15-candidate field led by Cohen in the Democratic primary for the Congressional seat Ford gave up to seek a Senate seat.

In the two statewide U.S. Senate primaries on the August ballot, Bredesen faces token opposition in his bid for the Democratic nomination and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn faces token opposition in the Republican primary.

Both have been conducting campaigns during the primary season focused on the November statewide general election.

There are a total of 162 candidates running in the combination of county general election races and state and federal primaries as well as a special election for the Memphis City Council.

In the county general elections, three Democratic incumbent Shelby County commissioners – Van Turner, Willie Brooks and Eddie Jones – are unopposed.

Democratic newcomer Mickell Lowery won the District 8 seat with the May primary. Like Turner, Brooks and Jones, he has no Republican or independent opposition on the August ballot.

Lowery will be one of at least eight new Shelby County commissioners to take office in September. Five county commissioners were term-limited from seeking a third consecutive term. Two others chose not to seek re-election and Republican Steve Basar was upset in the May primaries by Brandon Morrison.

There are 23 partisan races featuring the winners of May county primaries on the August county general election ballot and there are nine nonpartisan races to be decided. Those include four special countywide elections for judges, four seats on the Shelby County Schools board and an election for Bartlett municipal judge Division 1 in which incumbent Tim Francavilla is running unopposed.

The county general election results could have a ripple effect on the Memphis City Council.

As many as three council seats could be vacated with council members Edmund Ford Jr., Bill Morrison and Janis Fullilove running as the Democratic nominees for County Commission District 9, Probate Court Clerk and Juvenile Court Clerk, respectively.

Voters on the August ballot will elect a council member for Super District 9 following the May resignation of council member Philip Spinosa, who took a job with the Greater Memphis Chamber. The winner serves the remainder of Spinosa’s term to the end of 2019.

In the primaries for three of Shelby County’s five state Senate seats, the August vote count in the Democratic primary for District 33 will determine whether incumbent Reginald Tate returns to Nashville or is replaced by challenger Katrina Robinson. No one is running in the companion Republican primary.

In the primaries for the 14 state House seats in the Shelby County delegation to Nashville, Democrats Joe Towns, Karen Camper and Larry Miller won re-election at the filing deadline because they had no opposition.

The winners of six other House seats will be determined by who wins the Democratic primaries on the ballot. That includes the new face to be elected in state House District 86 where Democratic incumbent Raumesh Akbari is running in the primary for state Senate District 29, the seat Democrat Lee Harris is giving up to run for county mayor.

The recent death of District 99 Republican incumbent Ron Lollar means Republican leaders will nominate a successor by party convention to face Democrat Dave Cambron on the November ballot.

Democrats, who reorganized the Shelby County party last year after the state Democratic Party abolished the charter of the party in 2016, fielded candidates in each of the 13 county commission primaries, all 14 state House primaries and all three state Senate primaries.

The strategy is a new one for the party. Both local parties have historically not fielded candidates in districts that heavily favor the other party.

Republicans have no nominees running in nine of the Republican primaries for the 14 state House seats in Shelby County.

Local Democrats and the Memphis branch NAACP took the election commission to court over the commission’s June decision to add five early-voting locations – three in predominantly Republican areas – and make Agricenter International the only site for early voting in the first four days of the early voting.

The commission then amended the plan days later to remove Agricenter as the only voting location at the outset and instead has Republican commissioners pick one site and Democratic commissioners pick another. They also added election commission offices at Shelby Farms, four miles from Agricenter.

The lawsuit claimed both plans would suppress Democratic turnout and Chancellor Jenkins agreed in a Monday ruling that added two other early-voting sites to open Friday with the other three and moved up the opening of the remaining 22 sites to Monday July 16.

The next day, before Jenkins signed the court order, election commission officials said they could not open all 27 sites by Monday. Jenkins amended that order to require all sites be opened on Tuesday.

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