What to watch for in the election night vote totals

By , Daily Memphian Published: August 04, 2022 4:00 AM CT
<strong>Early voters file into Anointed Temple of Praise on July 29. According to&nbsp;the Shelby County Election Commission, 86,637 citizens voted during the 14-day early-voting period that ended&nbsp; Saturday, July 30.</strong> (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Early voters file into Anointed Temple of Praise on July 29. According to the Shelby County Election Commission, 86,637 citizens voted during the 14-day early-voting period that ended Saturday, July 30. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

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Election nights are about more than counting the votes.

While most will be watching who won and who lost the evening of Thursday, Aug. 4, politicos will take a deeper dive. They’ll view the numbers as the first indication of what could happen in the next election and the elections to follow.

That means they look at vote totals outside the boundaries of a specific race.


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


For instance, looking at who got the most votes in any countywide race is seen by some elected officials as an indication that they might be ready to run for something else in the not too distant future.

Here are a few things to look for in the vote totals, with The Daily Memphian’s “On The Record” podcast offering some additional points.

Smiley’s quest for Tennessee governor

If Memphis City Council member JB Smiley Jr. wins the statewide Democratic primary for Tennessee governor, it will mark the second win in as many years for a Memphis contender in a statewide Democratic primary.

<strong>JB Smiley Jr.</strong>

JB Smiley Jr.

It would be the second defeat of a prototypical Nashville contender for statewide office.

The first was Marquita Bradshaw’s upset of James Mackler in the 2020 U.S. Senate Democratic primary.

Democrats haven’t won a statewide office since 2006, when Phil Bredesen claimed his second term as governor — six years after Tennessee went red, or Republican, in the 2000 presidential general election and four years before Republicans became the majority in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Democratic leaders have said returning the party to winning statewide office isn’t likely until the party can start flipping seats in the Tennessee General Assembly and possibly Congressional seats.


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A Smiley victory in the primary would be an important moment in breaking the mold of running such campaigns the Nashville way — assuming Democrats in the rest of the state are watching the capitol city for guidance on who to support and then being surprised when it’s not enough support.

Harris and Mulroy totals

What could be as much as half of the total vote — absentee, early and election day combined — is already in.

<strong>Steve Mulroy</strong>

Steve Mulroy

<strong>Lee Harris</strong>

Lee Harris

Turnout in the Democratic state and federal primaries is the majority of the early-voter turnout.

Watch the overall vote totals after the polls close Thursday night to see if the vote totals for Democratic Shelby County District Attorney nominee Steve Mulroy match those of Democratic county Mayor Lee Harris.

Harris is unquestionably the tip of the Democratic spear in the biggest blue spot in the state.

It’s a role he has embraced in 2018 and again this year under his “new era” banner supporting the Democratic ticket. That includes sharing a campaign headquarters with Mulroy and the personal connection between the two, who entered local politics as professors at the University of Memphis Law School.

The DA’s race is a test of Harris’s coattails.


Political Roundup: DA’s race goes critical, Skullduggery and August ballot shakeout


Weirich and Morgan totals

Similarly, compare the totals between Republican District Attorney General Amy Weirich and the Republican nominee for county mayor, Worth Morgan.

<strong>Amy Weirich</strong>

Amy Weirich

<strong>Worth Morgan</strong>

Worth Morgan

<strong>Floyd Bonner Jr.</strong>

Floyd Bonner Jr.

Republicans have made Weirich’s reelection their top priority, ahead of Morgan’s challenge of Harris in the mayor’s race.

To put more emphasis on the point, the party voted to pass on the race for Shelby County sheriff — a race that historically consumes a lot of oxygen in the local political atmosphere, not to mention money.

The local party decided not to hold a Republican primary for sheriff and then went a step further and endorsed incumbent Democrat Floyd Bonner Jr.

Weirich is the only Republican holding a partisan countywide office.

The makeup of the Shelby County Commission

Watch the makeup of the Shelby County Commission — particularly the results in District 5, the new Cordova-based district created in redistricting.


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Shante Avant, the Democratic nominee, is heavily favored to win. If she beats Republican nominee Todd Payne, Democrats on the 13-member body are likely to go to a nine-member majority.

That puts more post-election pressure on the commission’s Democratic majority — now at eight members — to get its act together on some kind of agenda.

If Harris wins a second term, such an agenda is likely to have more definition and specifics than it has in his first term.

Meanwhile, there are several competitive general election races in other commission districts that have some combination of red — or Republican — precincts and blue — or Democratic — precincts.

If an incumbent loses in other contests, the partisan balance could remain at eight Democrats and five Republicans.

The number of new commissioners could go from six to seven new members — a majority of new members across both parties.


Political Roundup: Looking for votes in the heat


How the new commission shapes up

Eight of the 13 county commissioners who will take office have effectively been elected and reelected because they have no general election opposition.

That builds in four reelected incumbents: Republicans David Bradford and Mick Wright as well as Democrats Mickell Lowery and Edmund Ford Jr.

Add in the four Democratic newcomers: Charlie Caswell Jr., Britney Thornton, Miska Clay Bibbs and Erika Sugarmon.

The result is a commission that already has two Republicans and six Democrats — probably seven Democrats with Henri Brooks.

Brooks faces independent Shirelle Dakota Brown in the District 7 race. In the 30-year history of partisan county primaries, an independent candidate has never beaten a nominee of either party.


Memphis mayor potentials recalculate after Strickland announces possible third term


Term limits referendum

Most politicos will be watching to see whether expanding term limits for Memphis City Council members from two consecutive terms to three consecutive terms meets the same fate it did four years ago – a crushing defeat by city voters.

But the deeper look will be on the impact the ballot question has on next year’s race for Memphis mayor.

If voters approve extending the term limits for the mayor and council, it applies to the current mayor and the current council.

Mayor Jim Strickland, now serving his second consecutive term, announced in July that he is considering a 2023 bid for a third term if the ballot question passes.

A large group is expected to make the race if Strickland holds to his original plans and leaves office at the end of 2023, either because of term limits or voluntarily. That group began forming as soon as Strickland won his second term in 2019.

But Strickland has another potential hurdle that could be on the November ballot — another city charter change ballot question that would allow the local Republican and Democratic parties to call primary elections for nominees ahead of the October city general elections.


Strickland will seek third term if Memphis voters approve term limit referendum


Strickland has come out against the proposal.

Council member Martavius Jones, the sponsor of the primaries ordinance, will decide whether he wants to take it off the table, based on what happens to term limits when votes are counted Thursday evening.

A balance

The past three editions of this election cycle including the last big ballot in 1994 have been all-or-nothing propositions for the two local parties.

Republicans swept every countywide office on the 2010 ballot, which was every countywide partisan office except Assessor and General Sessions Court Clerk.

In 2014, Republicans swept every countywide office except Assessor which moved from the other even-year election cycle and remained in the Democratic column.

Democrats swept every countywide partisan office in the 2018 elections in a local blue wave as the rest of the state remained red. The 2018 ballot did not include the race for District Attorney General, which has an eight-year term.

In this edition of the cycle, there are some races that could be indicators the all-or-nothing trend could change. But the same indicators could just as easily turn out to show Democrats can change their nominees and still prevail.

Three countywide Democratic incumbents lost in the May primaries:

  • Circuit Court Clerk Temiika D. Gipson lost to outgoing Memphis City Council member Jamita Swearengen.
  • Probate Court Clerk Bill Morrison was upset by outgoing Shelby County Commissioner Eddie Jones.
  • Register of Deeds Shelandra Ford fell to outgoing County Commission chairman Willie Brooks.

There are other indications of possible upsets in the county general election.


County Clerk says license plate backlog cleared, blames Harris administration


Shelby County Clerk

Democratic incumbent Wanda Halbert’s office is on the minds of many voters due to a backlog of renewed car tags and new state license plates that vehicle owners are renewing online or by mail.

<strong>Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert held a press conference on Thursday, July 28, and renewed allegations of financial irregularities she&rsquo;d inherited when she was elected nearly four years ago.</strong> (Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian)

Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert held a press conference on Thursday, July 28, and renewed allegations of financial irregularities she’d inherited when she was elected nearly four years ago. (Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian)

Those coming in person toward the beginning and end of each month are facing long lines that include people who’d tried to renew online or by mail.

When Halbert, a former Memphis City Council member, took office in September 2018 she said the office didn’t have the funding it needed and called for an audit. She said the same to County Mayor Lee Harris and the County Commission.

A review of her office’s finances by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office concluded that the office was getting all of the revenues it was due and that there were no indications of any wrongdoing.

Halbert continued calling for an audit as the delays in getting new plates and renewed tags became noticeable.

Democrats on the commission approved additional funding for the office that Halbert didn’t request. Several said they feared they would get blamed for continued delays if they voted it down — even at her request.

The county administration provided the funding but also required a weekly inspection by the administration of the clerk’s new mailroom to make sure the plates and tags are getting in the mail rapidly.

At that point, Halbert had a backlog of more than 8,000 sets of plates and tags and didn’t have a reason for the backlog when commissioners asked.

She faces Republican challenger Jeff Jacobs on Thursday, Aug. 4. Jacobs is a veteran of several clerk’s offices, including 22 years in the county clerk’s office.

The second printing of the local Republican Party’s endorsement ballot was redesigned to put Jacobs at the top with Morgan and Weirich.

Halbert should not be underestimated. In the May Democratic primary, as the backlog of plates and tags was in full bloom, she faced three challengers — two perennial candidates, Mondell Williams and William Stovall, and Arriell Q. Gipson, the daughter of Circuit Court Clerk Temiika Gipson.

Halbert won easily.

Like Swearengen, Brooks and Jones in the May primaries, Halbert has the advantage of name recognition from other elected offices — a seat on the City Council and before that a seat on the Memphis City Schools board.

With that comes a different set of political skills that include what to do when the spotlight comes your way for not necessarily good reasons.

The difference is she is no longer one of 13 or one of nine. She is the incumbent clerk this time around.

Shelby County Trustee

What amounts to the office of the county tax collector has bounced back and forth between the two parties over several decades.

<strong>Regina Newman</strong>

Regina Newman

<strong>Steve Basar</strong>

Steve Basar

Incumbent Democratic Trustee Regina Newman has been on both ends of the bounce, losing the office to which she was appointed to Republican David Lenoir in 2010, then personally returning it to the Democratic column in 2018.

Newman has a Republican challenger with name recognition in former County Commissioner Steve Basar, who has used those skills to try to bring this race out of the shadow of the District Attorney’s skirmish.

Newman is not taking him lightly.

She is touting a record 97.64% property tax collection rate for the county and the lowest level of delinquent county taxes in two decades.

Newman has never been on either local elected legislative body but has been on the local Democratic Party’s executive committee and is a veteran of local campaigns.

Watch to see how Newman’s vote totals compare to other Democrats seeking reelection countywide, especially the relationship of her vote totals to those for Harris in the mayor’s race.

Also, it will be interesting to see how Basar fares countywide four years after running for reelection in a district and getting upset in the primary by Brandon Morrison in a hard-fought primary.


Political Roundup: The general election campaign shift


Assessor

Democratic incumbent Melvin Burgess Jr. is a former county commissioner who made the transition to countywide office in the 2018 blue wave.

He is being challenged by Republican nominee Steve Cross, who worked in the assessor’s office until the transition to Burgess.

Burgess is campaigning hard enough that he has felt the need to tell audiences he is not responsible for setting property tax rates or collecting taxes.

But Burgess did propose and got County Commission backing to try to move the county from a once-every-four-year cycle for the countywide property reappraisal for tax purposes to a reappraisal every other year.

The state quashed the move after all seven mayors of the cities within Shelby County went to Nashville to oppose it.

They argued a reappraisal every other year would mean resetting property tax rates every other year as well for their cities to at least meet the state standard of a tax rate that produces the same amount of revenue as the old rate once new values are considered.


Political Roundup: DA’s race goes critical, Skullduggery and August ballot shakeout


Primary strategy

The local Republican strategy has been to focus as much attention as possible on the August county general election by making as much of the May Republican primaries as possible a slate of one-candidate uncontested races.

It was successful with only one contested primary contest on the GOP side of the May ballot — the County Commission race between incumbent Brandon Morrison and Jordan Carpenter.

But some of the Republicans on the slate have concerns that nothing else to vote for in May primaries may have made it more difficult to get as much of the Republican base to the polls in August.

The second part of that equation is the fervent Republican hope that the county’s Democratic majority isn’t as excited.

It used to be that the Republican slate banked on putting up candidates with crossover appeal to break off enough of the Democratic vote to go with the Republican base.

No one on either side uses the “c-word” much these days.

Topics

August 2022 election JB Smiley Jr. Jeff Jacobs Wanda Halbert

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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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