Shelby County’s ‘big ballot’ Election Day arrives with theme of change

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 04, 2022 4:00 AM CT | Published: August 04, 2022 4:00 AM CT

Shelby County voters go to the polls Thursday, Aug. 4, to decide a long ballot.

The entire ballot takes in 163 races with 344 candidates. Of those candidates, 52 are running unopposed and another 26 are incumbent state appeals court judges in retention elections where voters choose to retain them or not retain them.


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Topping the county general election ballot are races for Shelby County mayor, District Attorney and Juvenile Court judge.

Each of the races has been hard fought, and taken together, they have a common theme of change — specifically, criminal justice reform.

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The mayor’s race features competing calls for change by incumbent Democratic Mayor Lee Harris and Republican challenger and Memphis City Council member Worth Morgan.

Voters will see a different kind of change at the polls with new polling places in some cases and new County Commission districts for more voters.

Also, voters will bid farewell to the touch screen machines in use since the 1990s. This is the last election for the machines with no paper trail that have outlived their maintenance agreements.


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A new generation of touch screen machines that will give voters a paper readout of their ballot choices to be run through a digital scanner and into a sealed ballot box debut in the November elections, starting with early voting in October.

Also starting with the November ballot will be a choice for voters between the new machines and a hand-marked paper ballot.

The transition is causing some confusion that the Shelby County Election Commission is working to clear up through social media messaging and other reminders at polling places.

Election Day for the “big ballot” Thursday follows a two-week early voting period that saw more than 86,000 ballots cast in the slate of county general elections as well as state and federal primary elections, Arlington municipal elections and a Memphis referendum on extending term limits.

Based on recent elections in the big ballot cycle, the early vote should be about half of the total turnout.


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The “big ballot” gets its name from the slate of 70 nonpartisan judicial races that come around every eight years.

In the three previous “big ballot” elections of 1998, 2006 and 2014, since the dawn of partisan county primaries in the early 1990s, the total turnout — absentee, early and Election Day — has never been higher than the 27.2% turnout in 2006.

In the non-big ballot years featuring the same county nonjudicial races in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2018, total turnout has declined from the 40.9% turnout in 1994 to 27.7% four years ago.

In all seven of the elections, the turnout in the state and federal primary ballot choices has been all over the map.

In some of the years, voters choosing the Republican primary ballot have been the majority, while in other years, it has been a Democratic majority.


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The difference between the two parties in the primary turnout has been narrow at times and large at other times depending largely on what races are on what ballot.

The Daily Memphian’s election coverage begins after the polls close at 7 p.m., with the early voting results as the first returns to be released by the Shelby County Election Commission.

Topics

August 2022 election big ballot Shelby County Election Commission

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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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