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Smaller Shelby County ballot yields lower early voter turnout so far

By , Daily Memphian Updated: October 28, 2022 4:00 AM CT | Published: October 28, 2022 4:00 AM CT
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Early voter turnout in Shelby County ahead of the Nov. 8 Election Day is half what it was four years ago in the same midterm general election cycle.

And the early voting sites in the suburbs are driving what turnout there is.

“There are some hotly contested races in the municipalities around the core of Memphis that are having better turnout,” Shelby County Elections administrator Linda Phillips said on The Daily Memphian’s “On The Record” podcast.

Ballot Basics: Early Voting Oct. 19-Nov. 3

“There are a lot of voters that don’t have many choices around this election,” she said. “I can understand why getting out and voting when most everybody has already been elected is not your highest priority.

Phillips and Ian Randolph of the Shelby County Voter Alliance each said they go into elections hoping more of the county’s 588,508 voters will turn out.

“Our numbers have not come anywhere close to that,” he said on the same podcast.

“Like in Frayser, they have — the last time I looked — the second lowest turnout by precincts,” Randolph said. “At least for the Voter Alliance, it tells me there is some work to do in other parts of the city.”

You can hear the entire conversation with Phillips and Randolph in the “On The Record” podcast with the audio link in this story.

The 14-day early voting period moves into the last of the two weekends of early voting Saturday and the end of the period Nov. 3, when the bulk of the turnout is expected based on past election cycles.

The Voter Alliance and Election Commission have scheduled “poll parties” at three early voting sites Saturday to boost turnout. They did so in the August county general elections as well.

Through Wednesday, the seventh day of the period, a total of 36,078 Shelby County voters cast early ballots, making up 12.2% of the statewide turnout of 294,300.

The 2014 turnout for the same seven days of the same election cycle was 20,474.

The 36,078 early voters so far compared to 73,810 early voters countywide by the seventh day of the early voting period in the same election cycle four years ago.

Understanding Tennessee’s proposed ‘right to work’ constitutional amendment

The 2018 absentee, early and Election Day combined turnout of 51.1% was the first majority turnout of the county’s voters in a nonpresidential general election since 1994. The midterm ballot featured a statewide race for Tennessee Governor and U.S. Senate with no incumbent seeking reelection in either race.

Phillips says such statewide races come with lots of campaign spending on television and social media advertising that has the general effect of getting the attention of voters on all sides.

There is not a Senate race on the Nov. 8 ballot, but Republican Gov. Bill Lee is seeking a second term and faces a challenge from Democratic nominee Jason Martin of Nashville.

Harmony Church in Bartlett, where a mayor’s race with no incumbent is on the suburban municipal ballot, had the highest turnout out of any of the 26 sites in Shelby County through Tuesday with 3,267 voters followed by Collierville Church of Christ and Compassion Church, also in Collierville at 2,955 and 2,298 respectively.

The ballot features a set of four proposed amendments to the Tennessee Constitution that voters are deciding across the state.

Political Roundup: Early voting hits 20,000; Jason Martin campaigns in Collierville

The amendment that would make the state’s “right to work” law a part of the Constitution is at the center of a hotly-contested campaign by various organizations on both sides of the question of labor organizing rights in Tennessee.

Randolph said voters ignore the proposed amendments at their own peril.

“Those things will have an impact on Tennessee for decades and decades to come,” he said. “You can’t just look at the immediate impact of the election. You have to think about further down the road and what impact your vote is going to have on the future of Tennessee.”

The amendments are also loaded with legal language required by law that can make it difficult for an unprepared voter to figure out what the amendments would change.

Phillips estimates the entire ballot of state and federal general elections is taking voters about three minutes on average to vote.

Opinion: Even if you don’t like the candidates, hold your nose and vote

That includes the amendments, municipal races in five of the six county suburbs, and special elections in Memphis City Council District 4 and Memphis City Court Judge Division 2.

“If you’ve read the amendments before you go in, it’s a very quick ballot,” she said. “If you are sitting at the voting machine and this is the first time you’ve perused the amendments, it’s more like five to six minutes.”

The balloting also features the debut countywide of a new voting system that lets voters choose between a hand-marked paper ballot and updated touchscreen voting machines with a paper trail of a voter’s choices.

Early voting opens with new voting system and new trends

Voters using either system feed their readout or ballot into the same digital scanner where it then rolls into a ballot box as a paper trail should there be an audit of the results.

Phillips said so far in early voting, most voters are choosing to use the new voting machines.

“Once you are checked in and your precinct is determined, you will be asked whether you prefer a machine-marked ballot or a hand-marked ballot,” she said. “There are cards in front of every check in station with the choices. Poll workers are not supposed to try to influence your choice. It’s completely your choice. They are read by the same scanner, the same software.”


"On The Record" podcast early voting Linda Phillips Ian Randolph

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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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