Political Roundup: Early voting’s first full week, the county clerk’s race, and Latino voters

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 25, 2022 12:03 PM CT | Published: July 25, 2022 4:00 AM CT

Early voting in Shelby County cracked the 36,000 mark at the end of the first full week of the voting period ahead of the Aug. 4 election day.

Through Saturday, July 23 — by updated figures from the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office posted Monday morning — 36,264 Shelby County voters had cast early ballots with 20,692 voting the Democratic state and federal primary ballot and 14,944 voting the Republican primary ballot. Another 628 voted the county general election ballot only.

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That compares to 36,127 early voters eight days into the early voting period in the 2006 big ballot election with all 19 sites open from opening day. Eight days into the early voting period for the 2014 big ballot, 37,168 has voted early at 21 sites with all of the sites open starting on the third day of the period.

Early vote totals are updated and analyzed daily on Twitter @bdriesdm through July 30 — the last day of early voting in advance of the Aug. 4 election day.


Ballot Basics: Early voting is July 15-30


The big ballot is an election cycle that comes around every eight years and features judicial races that have an eight-year term of office. It is the longest ballot of any election cycle in Shelby County politics.

By the statewide totals, 225,747 Tennessee voters has cast early ballots through this past Thursday with 65% of the voters in all 95 counties voting in the Republican primary. Another 28.5% voted in the Democratic primary with the remainder voting in county general elections only.

The Shelby County total accounts for 16% of the statewide early vote turnout total. The closest of the state’s other 95 counties in terms of the turnout through Thursday was Knox County with 14,706 early voters — a majority voting the Republican primary.

The Shelby County Democratic primary turnout is almost a third of the statewide Democratic turnout.

Partisans in both parties are watching the gap between the primary voters in Shelby County closely as an indication of what it will mean in the county general election races on the ballot.

The partisan early voting push

Republican county mayoral nominee Worth Morgan told a group of around 30 supporters at a Tuesday early voting rally in Germantown that the 42% of the early vote that is identifiably Republican is encouraging in his bid to upset Democratic Mayor Lee Harris.

“That number is about five percentage points higher than the total that we saw in 2018,” Morgan said, referring to the last county mayor’s race between Harris and Republican nominee David Lenoir.

“So people are turning out and are pulling Republican ballots more than we expected, more than we saw in 2018,” he said.


Shelby County GOP state office candidates outnumbered, but outspending Democrats


Morgan’s campaign was at Berclair Church of Christ early voting site Saturday looking for votes. Harris’ campaign did not have a presence there.

Turnout at the site was evenly split between Democratic and Republican primary voters at the start of early voting. But has since seen Democrats pull away in a pattern reflected in ballot choices countywide.

Shelby County Democratic Party chairwoman Gabby Salinas, who was at the Berclair site Saturday, said national issues are key to the Democratic turnout.

“We’re picking up steam and we are going to continue to make our efforts and get our vote out,” she told The Daily Memphian. “I think that we can’t take a single vote for granted. We have to continue fighting for every vote — making sure that voters know where we stand on the issues and elevating our candidates.”

That has included printing the slate of Democratic candidates for the county general election races as a door hanger instead of the normal full-sized sheet of paper used in hand-to-hand campaigning.


More than 7,700 cast ballots in first 2 days of early voting


And the door-to-door campaign isn’t volunteers unfamiliar with the neighborhoods they are going into.

“We want to make sure that we are targeting voters with the people who are going to represent them,” Salinas said. “It is their neighbors who are knocking on the door and asking them to vote Democrat.”

Republicans are using the same idea but with a different method in the hard-fought race between Republican District Attorney Amy Weirich and Democratic challenger Steve Mulroy.

Weirich’s campaign is having neighborhood leaders backing her send out letters of support that come to voters in envelopes without the campaign’s colors and logo but with the neighbor’s home address as the return address on the envelope.

The letters are mailed with the assistance of the campaign.

County Clerk’s race intensifies

The local Republican Party ballot is changing in its layout to emphasize a third countywide race.

A second run of 20,000 Shelby County Republican Party endorsement ballots are in the mail this week, according to Shelby County Republican Party chairman Cary Vaughn, targeting voters identified as skipping the August elections and only voting the November general election ballot.

Vaughn said the ballot will also have a different top than the first batch of ballots.


Electing the Clerks: A voter’s guide to eight races in the middle of the big ballot


Republican nominee for County Clerk Jeff Jacobs will be at the top of the second batch along with Weirich and Morgan.

Jacobs, a 22-year employee of the clerk’s office, is challenging Democratic clerk Wanda Halbert.

The office under Halbert’s leadership has struggled with a backlog of car tags and new state license plates that has resulted in long waits for vehicle owners who have tried to renew by mail or online.

It’s also resulted in longer lines and waits for those trying to renew in person.

The Shelby County Commission delayed a vote on a resolution of “no confidence” in Halbert until after the election is decided.

Local car dealers have called on the state to takeover the part of the clerk’s office that handles license plates and car tag renewals.

Finding the Latino vote

The Shelby County Voter Alliance teamed with two nonpartisan Latino vote efforts to engage potential Latino voters Saturday at the Berclair early voting location.

Latinos are a segment of voters undercounted in Shelby County Election Commission numbers which only in recent years has added a category for “Hispanic” voters.

Yuleiny Escobar of the group Voto Para Todos is the daughter of a mother who is undocumented and cannot vote and a father who recently went from resident status to citizenship. She was born in the U.S.


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“That wasn’t something we heard about,” she said of voting. “That’s like another language almost. It was during the last election that there was a lot at stake for my community that I decided to go ahead and be responsible and go vote.”

Britany Gonzalez of the Nashville-based group Tennessee Immigrant and Refugees Right Coalition -- TIRRC Votes -- has also encountered the same lack of voter awareness since moving back to Memphis after college.

“The effect that can have on families is huge. Sometimes families don’t realize it,” she said. “You sit down and have a conversation with them and get them to better understand what this means and what this is for.”

Starting to tap the potential of Latino Memphians eligible to vote but who have never considered it, like Escobar, is daunting given the complexity of the current ballot.

“You have all of these politicians running for office and part of our future is in their hands. In the past, they completely ignored the Latinx community,” she said of the “fiesta” organized outside the Berclair church.

“It is so that they know we are here,” Escobar said. “We exist and we are becoming more aware of the power that we have as voters and that we are going to encourage our young people and our new Latino voters to come out and vote.”

Campaigning in the heat

With live music and food as well as tents, the activists shared the Berclair parking lot with the campaigns and a scattered number of voters coming into the voting site one at a time and not very frequently on a hot afternoon.

George ‘Dempsy’ Summers, an independent candidate for Register of Deeds bent the wire frame for a yard sign to go over his shoulders with his sign mounted over his head as he walked around.

Judicial contenders Stuart Breakstone and Louis Montesi compared their approaches to voters in the down time between voters walking across the parking lot.


The ultimate guide to the judicial races on the August ballot


“I’m running for judge,” Breakstone said.

“I’m running for reelection,” Montesi said.

Breakstone is running for Division 6 Circuit Court Judge.

Montesi is running to remain judge in Division 13 of General Sessions Criminal Court.

Rich campaigns in Germantown

Brent Taylor, Republican contender for the District 31 state Senate seat, is already campaigning for the November ballot with fundraisers in Shelby County and in Nashville.

Taylor is running unopposed on the August ballot and advances to the November general election along with Democratic nominee Ruby Powell Dennis, who is also unopposed on the August ballot.

Country music entertainer John Rich played Friday, July 22, at the Germantown Horse Show grounds for Taylor’s campaign.

Between songs, Rich talked about “what other people are trying to do to our country.”

“That’s enough to make you want to cry,” he said. “But not tears of sadness — tears of anger and tears of resolve.”

Before the performance, U.S. Army veteran Robert Hunt gave Rich one of two Purple Heart medals he earned over the course of eight military deployments from Bosnia to Iraq.

Rich also recognized other veterans in the audience.

He has campaigned for numerous Republican candidates in the state over the years.

He and singer-songwriter Larry Gatlin campaigned in Shelby County in 2010 for U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp of Chattanooga as Wamp was running in the Republican primary for Tennessee Governor.

On the horse show grounds last week, Rich talked about the “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.

“Now we see people coming out standing in the way of our right to pursue,” he said. “How do we know whether someone is a good guy or a bad guy? … If they stand in your way of your pursuit of happiness, they ain’t a good guy. They ain’t a good girl.”


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The event drew Tennessee Senate Republican leader Jack Johnson of Franklin as well as Tennessee Republican Party chairman Scott Golden.

Taylor, whose past resume includes the Memphis City Council member, Shelby County Commission and being chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission, appealed to the group to “trust me one more time.”

“As an undertaker, I want to be sure to tell you to vote early —you never know,” he said.

National issues as motivation for local votes

Golden said Rich’s comments reflect a sentiment that he believes make the possibility of complacency among Republican voters in a red state irrelevant.

“The enthusiasm on the Republican side is sky high because of the national issues. It doesn’t matter how red the county is in Tennessee,” he said when asked about the perils of Republican complacency in a red state where Shelby County is the biggest blue county.


Weirich, Mulroy clash on abortion prosecutions and focus of DA’s race


“Voters on the Republican side are very concerned about the direction that we’re headed,” Golden said. “When you are talking about inflation that is out of control that one year ago we were promised would be under control.”

Meanwhile, Salinas says Democrats aren’t assuming Democratic voters will automatically vote because of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection hearings or the U.S. Supreme Court decision reversing the 1973 court ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S.

But she acknowledges Democratic voters are more focused than ever on the nation’s politics as well as state and local politics because of those and other national issues.

“So much has happened at the federal level and we have to tackle all of the issues from the federal down to the local level,” she said. “It makes a difference who is in those positions.”

Golden questions whether Democratic opposition to the June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on abortion will be much of a rallying point for Democrats at least for the August ballot.


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“We’ve seen no evidence of it,” he said specifically of the Supreme Court’s change on abortion motivating Democratic voters.

“The truth is the (post) Roe decision just shifted it back to the states,” Golden said. “That is something we are going to get into in the fall.”

Salinas says the decisions voters make past the tracking of voter turnout will determine that.

“We’re going to make our case to the voters,” she said. “It’s my job to make sure all our candidates are upholding Democratic values especially in these times. I do think voters are in agreement with us.”

Topics

August 2022 election early voting 2022 county clerk's race Latino voters partisan divide

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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