VOL. 133 | NO. 87 | Tuesday, May 1, 2018
First Primaries Kick Off Busy Election Year
By Bill Dries
Shelby County voters go to the polls Tuesday, May 1, in the first of three elections this year that will take in county, state and federal offices by the time the last vote is counted in November.
The primary elections Tuesday for 23 Shelby County government offices are being watched closely by local Republican and Democratic leaders. They are watching the turnout and what the results say about the political temperament and activism of a county Hillary Clinton carried with 60 percent of the vote in the November 2016 presidential general election won by Republican Donald Trump.
The Republican base outside Memphis, but within Shelby County, was a key reason Trump carried Tennessee and won its 11 electoral votes in that election.
Turnout in the county primaries has never gone higher than 18 percent of registered voters since the first primaries for these county offices was held in 1994.
The polls open Tuesday with 8.2 percent of registered voters already voting early. Early voting turnout in the Democratic and Republican primaries was higher than in 2010 and 2014.
Memphis remains more of a walk-up town when it comes to voting, with the bulk of the vote usually coming on election day compared to other parts of the state, which routinely have half of ballots cast in the early vote.
There were 41,301 early votes cast in advance of Tuesday’s election day. Of that total, 24,912 voted in the Democratic primary and 16,389 in the Republican primary.
Four years ago, the early vote total was 26,295, with 18,695 voting in the Democratic primary and 7,599 in the Republican.
In the 2010 county primaries, the last primaries with no incumbent county mayor or county sheriff seeking re-election, the early voter turnout was 31,005. Of that total, 18,292 voted in the Democratic primaries and 12,713 in the Republican primaries.
Those 2010 and 2014 elections saw the beginning of a general election sweep by Republicans of every countywide office in the election cycle in 2010 and then a successful defense of those offices by Republican incumbents in 2014. Democrats held on only to the assessor’s office, held by Democrat Cheyenne Johnson.
Democrats also retained their seven-seat majority on the 13-member County Commission in 2010 and 2014.
Since the 2014 elections, the Shelby County Democratic Party has had its charter abolished by the state party and then reformed with lots of new blood and new candidates.
Democrats have fielded contenders in every county primary, one of the goals the party’s new leadership set for this election year. In past elections, Democrats have at times left uncontested races in County Commission districts that are considered majority Republican.
Several of the Republican incumbents who won re-election four years ago are term-limited in 2018 and are running for other offices.
The term limits are a factor in what will be a new majority on the Shelby County Commission. Five of the incumbent commissioners are not seeking re-election because they are term limited. Another one, Republican George Chism, is running for trustee after one term on the commission. And Republican commissioner David Reaves decided not to seek a second term on the commission or another office.
At least seven of the 13 commissioners elected in the August county general election will be new faces to the majority Democratic body.
The race at the top of the primary ballot, Shelby County mayor, features state Sen. Lee Harris and former county commissioner Sidney Chism on the Democratic side and county trustee David Lenoir, county commissioner Terry Roland and juvenile court clerk Joy Touliatos in the Republican primary.
Fifteen of the 46 primary races are uncontested, one-candidate contests with the winners automatically advancing to the August ballot.
In two of those races, both for County Commission seats, the Democratic incumbents – Van Turner and Willie Brooks – have no opposition at all, meaning they won re-election at the Feb. 15 filing deadline.
Another five primary races – all for commission seats and all Republican primaries in districts considered heavily Democratic – have no candidate running at all, meaning the winners of the Democratic primaries Tuesday will win four of the five positions outright.
Democratic incumbent commissioner Reginald Milton, who is unopposed in his primary and has no Republican opposition, faces independent contender Vontyna Durham in August.
That leaves 26 contested primary races for voters to decide.
The largest field is the seven-candidate race in the Democratic primary for commission District 9, now held by Democrat Justin Ford, who is term limited and is running in the August primaries for the Tennessee Legislature.
Go to www.shelbyvote.com, the Shelby County Election Commission’s website to find your election day precinct if you didn’t vote early. And join @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols, for live coverage of the returns – early and election day – once the polls close Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The highest early voter turnout by election day precinct was in the East Memphis precinct 57-00 where 17.8 percent of the 4,531 voters voted early, most of them in the Republican primary.
Next highest was 14.8 percent of the 4,644 voters in MIL-01, which votes on election day at Baker Community Center in Millington.
The third highest early voting precinct percentage was the 14 percent turnout – most of it Democratic – of the 2,949 voters in precinct 79-02, which votes on election day at Havenview Middle School in Whitehaven.