More than 111,000 cast ballots in first 4 days of early voting

‘There’s a lot of interest. There have been lines when we’ve opened every day.’

By , Daily Memphian Updated: October 19, 2020 7:24 PM CT | Published: October 19, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Early voting in advance of the Nov. 3 election day resumes Monday, Oct. 19, after more than 111,000 voters turned out for the first four days of balloting.

The pace is far above the early voter turnout in Shelby County in the three previous presidential general elections.

As of Sunday morning, the Shelby County Election Commission reported 94,696 in the first three days of early voting and tweeted Saturday that 17,212 citizens had cast ballots that day with about an hour left to the closing of the 26 sites for the weekend.

That makes a partial and incomplete total of 111,908 going into the only full week of the 14-day period that runs through Oct. 29.

Nearly 27,000 cast ballots in bold opening day of early vote

Shelby County elections administrator Linda Phillips describes the increase in voters as “larger than usual.”

But four days into a 14-day early voting period, it’s unclear if the increase in voter participation represents a net increase above the 60% total turnout – early, absentee and election day— in the last three presidential general elections in Shelby County.

“There’s a lot of interest,” Phillips said. “There have been lines when we’ve opened every day.”

Initially the thought was the lines Friday for the third day might be shorter.

The 32,368 daily turnout Friday was the highest so far with fewer absentee ballots in the total than the two preceding days.

“2020 is kind of unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Phillips said on The Daily Memphian Politics Podcast.

Absentee votes will complicate election night returns

The presidential general election is the most popular election cycle in Shelby County politics by voter turnout. It is the only election cycle that regularly draws a majority of the county’s voters to participate.

And early voting is a forecast of what is likely to happen on election day although there are notable exceptions that point to the impact unexpected events or changes can have.

The most recent example was during the March Super Tuesday Democratic presidential primary in Shelby County.

Ballot Basics: Early Voting Oct. 14-29

Democratic presidential contender and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg carried the early vote countywide by a narrow margin over former Vice President and eventual nominee Joe Biden.

Between the end of early voting and election day, Biden dramatically changed his campaign message and won the South Carolina Democratic primary. Shelby County Democrats responded, with Biden carrying Shelby County as well as the state. Bloomberg finished third in Shelby County’s combined primary totals with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders finishing second.

Biden takes state and Shelby County in strong showing

The November midterm elections in 2018 drew the first majority turnout of the county’s voters in 26 years for an election cycle other than the presidential general election.

The early voter turnout in that election was 190,956 compared to more than a quarter of a million early voters in 2008 and just under the quarter-million mark in 2012 and 2016.

The comparison isn’t an exact one. The three previous early voting periods for the election cycle featured fewer voting sites and shorter hours than the 26 locations open in the current period with two more hours of early voting daily at 25 of the 26 locations than the three previous elections.

Voter registration deadline for August election likely to pass quietly

The app,, a new voter information site whose organizers include Shelby County election commissioner Bennie Smith, shows a three-day early voting total that is about 500 fewer than the election commission —94,175.

By that number, govote901offers a demographic breakdown based on the participating voter list that shows the following:

  • 12,000 of the 94,000 voters were first-time voters although not necessarily voters newly registered voters since the August elections.
  • 61 percent, or more than 57,000, live in Memphis with 10.4% living in unincorporated Cordova and between 5,700 and 6,200 voters each in Germantown, Collierville and Bartlett —accounting for between 6% and 6.5% for each of the three suburban towns and cities.
  • A majority of the early voters, 58,000, are women.
  • The average age is 56.19.
  • By race, 37,000 — or 39.4% are Black; 32% are “other” or did not indicate their race on voter registrations and 28.4% are white. The remaining .2% are Hispanic, Chinese and other minorities.

Ballot Basics: Voting Absentee and Lessons from August

The three-day early vote total includes about half of the estimated 20,000 absentee ballots requested before early voting opened last Wednesday. Requests for the mail-in ballots can be made through Oct. 27 and those voters have until the polls close at 7 p.m. election day to fill them out and have them delivered to be counted.

Among the 9,800 absentee ballots received over the three-day period covered by govote:

  • 60.4% were women
  • 40.4% were white and 31.2% were black.
  • 88.48% of the absentee voters were over the age of 50.

Federal appeals court upholds signature verification law for absentee ballots

“I just think people are concerned about democracy,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said Saturday. “Not everybody’s anti-Trump. But a lot of people are and I think that’s what has driven turnout.”

Cohen set up shop Saturday morning in the parking lot of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall in Midtown with several thick bundles of Biden-Harris yard signs and wire stands to secure them in front yards free for the taking. He and supporters brought a set of Cohen yard signs and bumper stickers with Cohen keeping a stash of unused campaign T-shirts from his past campaigns in the trunk of his car for those who requested them.

“Nice to see you — more or less,” Cohen said from behind a double mask as he handed some signs over to a masked homeowner who walked to the parking lot from a house just north of the Madison Avenue landmark.

Trump yard signs and banners are being distributed in person from the Shelby County Republican Party’s headquarters in Cordova which doubles as a phone-banking center. It also has signs for local Republican candidates.

Both presidential campaigns offer the yard signs online for a donation. And presidential yard signs have been hard to come by in past presidential elections — most notably during the 2000 bid of Vice President and former U.S. Senator Al Gore of Tennessee, who lost his home state to future President George W. Bush.

The campaigns tend to ration the signs also to avoid collectors who might store the signs in a garage or indoors rather than use it to show support before Election Day.

Cohen said in his case the idea is “to show support on the streets” in an area of town that has been the epicenter of resistance to Trump since his election in 2016.

Early voting opens with expectation of large turnout for presidential general election

Shelby County Republican Party chairman Chris Tutor predicted turnout “through the roof” just before the start of early voting.

“I’m expecting it to outstrip 2016 and be the highest turnout in several decades,” he said.

“Knowing that Tennessee is a red state for the president and the U.S. Senate election, we are focusing our efforts where we think they are going to be most needed,” Tutor told The Daily Memphian. “These local races are going to be tight.”

Ballot Basics: Shelby County voters by the numbers

While the county has a relatively high amount of its voting age population already registered — 83% of the population that age 18 and over by the 2010 U.S. Census — there has been some growth in new voters specifically for the November ballot in Shelby County.

Since early September, Shelby County has 7,646 new voters by monthly statistics kept by the Shelby County Election Commission.

The Oct. 1 report tallied the city’s voting base four days before the deadline for new voters to register for the presidential general election.

  • The growth in the voting base by age group was greatest in those between the ages of 28 and 47. The 4,000 new voters in that age group accounted for more than half of the increase. Voters ages 68-77 increased by 1,000.
  • More than half of the new voters registered in the last month —
    4,425 — live in Memphis. The number of registered voters in Bartlett and Collierville showed the most growth among the six suburban towns and cities. There are 568 more voters in Collierville and 559 more in Bartlett since early September and 432 new voters in Germantown over the same period.
  • The vast majority of the new voters —
    6,903 — checked no box for their race or “other.” Voters in Tennessee are not required to identify themselves by race.
  • Slightly more of the new voters were women at 3,928 compared to 3,720 men.

What began as voter registration drives, intensifying up to the Oct. 5 deadline to register in time to vote the presidential general election ballot, has since turned a corner to a strong push for those new voters to turn out.

And Republicans as well as Democratic partisan are specifically urging voters to vote the down ballot races for the U.S. Senate, Tennessee Legislature and nonpartisan municipal elections in five of the city’s six suburban towns and cities.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our election coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do


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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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