County primary election day offers more decisions for Democrats than Republicans

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 03, 2022 3:14 PM CT | Published: May 03, 2022 4:00 AM CT

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Voters across Shelby County go to the polls Tuesday, May 3, to decide a slate of county government primaries that will set the stage for August county general election ballots.

Polls across the county are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with new election day polling places for some voters along with some new County Commission districts and a new precinct numbering system for politicos to sort through as the votes come in.

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Follow the results @bdriesdm on Twitter when the polls close with the release of the early voting totals some time after 7 p.m.

Here is the Democratic ballot.

Here is the Republican ballot.

For Republicans, there is only one contested race to be decided out of 23 on the primary ballot — the District 4 County Commission primary between incumbent Brandon Morrison and challenger Jordan Carpenter.

The winner faces Democrat Britney Chauncey in August.

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Democrats have more decisions to make topped by a primary challenge of Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris by Ken Moody, an assistant to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

The winner faces Worth Morgan, a Memphis City Council member, in the August county general election.

Moody’s challenge of Harris in the primary is the most substantial challenge of an incumbent elected county mayor from either party seeking re-election since the first partisan county primaries in 1994.

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Democratic voters will also decide a three-way race for District Attorney to determine who challenges Republican prosecutor Amy Weirich, the only Republican holding a partisan countywide office, in the August balloting.

Of 24 races in the Democratic primaries, 16 are contested.

What a Democratic District Attorney’s office would look like

The first election in Shelby County since the 2020 November presidential election drew 39,394 early voters as well as absentee ballots and nursing home voting in the voting period that ended this past Thursday.

The vast majority — 30,706 — voted in the Democratic primary with the sparser Republican turnout — 8,688 — concentrated predominantly among early voters who live in the East Memphis and Germantown precincts that make up District 4.

Here is the data on early voting turnout for this election.

Absentee ballots by mail will continue to arrive up to the 7 p.m. closing of the polls on election day and the nursing home totals were incomplete.

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The total so far compares to 41,261 during the early voting period for the same election cycle four years ago with all 20 voting sites open from the first day of the period.

Early voting this time began at only the Downtown Election Commission offices site on the first two days and then to five other sites on the Saturday before Easter Sunday. All 26 early voting sites opened the Monday after Easter Sunday.

Critics of the decision to have a limited opening of early voting sites took the Election Commission to court seeking the opening of even more sites but the motion was denied.

Judge denies bid to open additional early voting locations Wednesday

The Election Commission worked with the Shelby County Voter Alliance to encourage a heavier early voting turnout for what is normally a low voter turnout overall — the lowest turnout for any election cycle in Shelby County politics.

In the 30-year history of partisan county primaries in even-numbered years, turnout for this election cycle has never been higher than 18% of the total number of voters on the rolls in Shelby County.

The voter turnout effort included a partnership with the Memphis Area Transit Authority for free rides to early voting sites on the final day of the period.

It also includes a voter hotline at 901-222-1222 to confirm election day voting sites by a voter’s precinct on the new precinct map that is available for election day voters.

MATA providing free rides on last day of early voting

While early voting allows citizens to cast their ballots at any of the locations regardless of where they live and what precinct they live, on election day voters can only vote at the polling site in their precinct.

In the past three editions of the county primary election cycle, early and absentee voting has accounted for roughly half of the total turnout.

It was 53.9% of the total 2018 turnout of 76,485; 45.6% of the total 2014 turnout of 57,562 and 46.9% of the total 2010 turnout of 66,101.

If 39,504 early voters is half of the total votes including election day turnout, that would be a total turnout of about 80,000.

Election Day comes with lots of votes already cast

However, a record early and absentee voter turnout in the 2020 November presidential general election in Shelby County translated to a lower election day turnout in an election cycle that consistently posts the county’s highest total turnout of any election cycle in Shelby County.

The three previous county primaries in the election cycle on the ballot Thursday, across eight years, set the stage for three sets of pivotal county general elections in which Republicans swept every countywide race in 2010, all but one in 2014 and Democrats swept every countywide race in 2018.

The slate of party nominees selected in the primary elections to advance to the August general election were major factors in the sweeps and near sweep.

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Local Republicans were at the peak of their ability to field nominees capable of drawing crossover Democratic votes in 2010 and 2014. The local Democratic party’s chronic dysfunction was also nearing its 2016 peak when the state party revoked the county party’s charter that same year.

“Crossover appeal” is not a term Republicans in the suburbs outside Memphis use very often anymore.

The reconstituted Shelby County Democratic Party served notice in 2018 that it too was done with Democrats crossing over to vote for Republicans by fielding candidates in every one of that year’s county general partisan contests.

That included Democratic nominees for all 13 districts of the Shelby County Commission in May as well as every state House and state Senate seat representing Shelby County on the August state and federal primary ballot, including districts in the majority Republican suburbs.

In the process, Democrats dropped many of the recurring nominees who had won Democratic primaries in the past but then lost big against Republican nominees in the general election.

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The resulting blue wave locally, halfway through President Donald Trump’s four-year term in the White House, improved the Democratic majority on the commission to eight of the 13 seats and left District Attorney General Amy Weirich as the only Republican holding a countywide partisan elected office.

Weirich is nearing the end of an eight-year term and thus wasn’t on the ballot in 2018.

The Assessor’s office remained in the Democratic column over those three sets of elections because it was in the other even-year county election cycle before moving to the cycle with every other county partisan office with the exception of General Sessions Court Clerk.


2022 elections 2022 county primaries Shelby County Election Commission early voter turnout

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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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