One-third of Shelby County voters show up for midterms

By , Daily Memphian Updated: November 09, 2022 5:46 AM CT | Published: November 08, 2022 9:08 PM CT

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Shelby County voter turnout in the midterm election cycle took a tumble in the last election of 2022 with about one-third of the county’s voters showing up.

In 2018, the same election cycle drew slightly more than simple majority of the county’s 588,000 voters at a 51.1% turnout.

The estimated total voter turnout of 191,755, based on the total number of Shelby County votes in the race for Tennessee governor, appears to be the lowest since the November 1998 turnout of 30.1% for the same midterm election cycle. 

Varonica Cooper wins Memphis Municipal Court Judge, Division 2

The unofficial results from the Tuesday, Nov. 8, Election Day confirmed the county’s status as the biggest blue — Democratic — county in the state.

Democratic nominee for Governor Dr. Jason Martin carried Shelby County as incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Lee easily carried the state and won a second four-year term of office.

The city’s two Congressman — Democrat Steve Cohen of Memphis and Republican David Kustoff of Germantown — easily won re-election although it remained to be seen which one would be part of the House’s majority party and who would be a member of the minority.

With Tennessee Democrats losing the newly configured 5th Congressional District seat, Cohen will be the lone Democrat in the nine-member Tennessee delegation to the U.S. House come January.

Politicos watched other races not reflected in the vote totals Thursday. More voters chose to vote on the new voting machines with a paper audit trail than with hand-marked paper ballots.

Voters in Memphis City Council District 4 elected Jana Swearengen-Washington to the year left in her sister Jamita Swearengen’s term of office.

Jamita Swearengen resigned from the council following her election in August as the Shelby County Circuit Court Clerk.

Swearengen-Washington claimed a majority of the vote — 51.4% in the unofficial returns — in the four-way race Tuesday to avoid a December runoff that would have been triggered had no one captured a simple majority.

Voters in the district do this all over again in about a year when that seat and the 12 other council seats are on the October 2023 ballot for full, four-year terms of office.

Republican Brent Taylor wins Kelsey’s state Senate seat, and incumbents win other General Assembly races

Swearengen-Washington and possibly some if not all of her rivals are expected to run for the full term.

The new mayor of Bartlett is David Parsons. The race to succeed Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald was the only contested mayor’s race in the suburban elections.

Former Shelby County Commissioner and Shelby County School board member David Reaves returned to elected office, winning an alderman’s seat in Bartlett.

A contentious Germantown school board race between incumbent Angela Griffin and Carrie Schween came with some of the rhetoric featured in local school board races across the state and the U.S.

By the unofficial results, Griffin won the nonpartisan race in what could be seen as a referendum on such rhetoric. Shelby is the only Tennessee county where both local political parties have decided not to hold some form of school board primaries.

Germantown incumbent alderman Scott Sanders easily won reelection over challenger Majit Kaur in another hard-fought contest.

In Collierville municipal elections, Keri Blair claimed an open seat on the Collierville school board.

And in what might be called the last ripple of the August big ballot of judicial races, Varonica Cooper was elected the new Memphis City Court Judge for Division 2 – the judgeship held by Tarik Sugarmon before he was elected Juvenile Court Judge in August.

Former Division 1 City Court Judge Carolyn Watkins, who lost a special election bid to keep that seat in August, was appointed to Division 2 by Mayor Jim Strickland after her loss to Kenya Hooks. 

All four Tennessee constitutional amendments clear bar for passage

Watkins was among the nine contenders on Tuesday’s ballot for Division 2.

Cooper ran for one of the other judicial positions on the August ballot and then joined the field of nine for the city court position after the August election results were certified.

The early and absentee vote of more than 120,000 was the bulk of the combined voter turnout with about 72,000 showing up on Election Day.

Early vote totals

Martin took the early and absentee vote in Shelby County in the first results of the night released by the Shelby County Election Commission.

But Lee did well enough in the early and absentee vote that he was about 11,000 votes behind Martin at that point.

Martin was eventually lengthen his Shelby County lead by 22,000 when election day vote totals were added in.

But the results came after Lee had already declared victory statewide in Nashville after piling up a massive lead in returns from other parts of the state.

Lee easily wins reelection for governor

Martin was expected to carry the county in his statewide challenge of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

Martin 64,212

Lee 53,077

The most competitive race in Shelby County’s delegation to the Tennessee Legislature saw House District 97 Republican incumbent John Gillespie take the early and absentee vote over Democratic challenger Toniko Harris with 21 Election Day precincts still to come.

Gillespie 7,054

Harris 5,308

Meanwhile, the proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution — Amendment No. 1 — that would enshrine the state’s “right to work” law reflected what happend in the combined totals.

Yes 68,198

No 40,019

The other three constitutional amendments had majority “yes” votes by the early and absentee totals.

The largest “yes” vote was for the third of the four amendments that abolished slavery language applying to inmates.

Yes 92,280

No 20,265

The amendments win passage statewide if they get a majority of the votes cast in the statewide race for governor.

Swearengen-Washington took the early and absentee vote in the special race for the District 4 seat on the Memphis City Council.

Latonia Blankenship was second followed by Barry Ford and DeWayne Jackson -- the same order as the combined results.

Swearengen-Washington 3,865

Blankenship 1,656

Ford 924

Jackson 459

Memphis voters also gave the early and absentee vote lead to Cooper in the nine-way special election for Memphis City Court Judge.

Cooper 11,913

Watkins 9,316

Cameron 8,838

In the race for Bartlett Mayor to succeed retiring Mayor Keith McDonald, Parsons took the early vote in the field of four, with Steven Brent Hammonds less than a thousand votes back.

In the two most watched races in Germantown’s municipal elections:

Angela Rickman Griffith took the early vote in the position 4 school board race over Carrie Schween.

Griffith 5,418

Schween 4,535

Alderman Scott Sanders took the early vote in his re-election bid over challenger Manjit Kaur.

Sanders 6,701

Kaur 3,362

In Collierville municipal elections, incumbent alderman Missy Marshall claimed the early vote over challenger Emily Fulmer.

Marshall 8,162

Fulmer 2,911

In other contested state House races from the Shelby County delegation:

The late District 86 Democratic state House member Barbara Cooper, who died during the early voting period, took the early vote over Republican challenger Michael Porter.

Cooper 5,009

Porter 1,677

With the combined results showing the same result, the seat will be declared vacant and Shelby County Commissioners will appoint a replacement.

Tennessee Rep. Barbara Cooper dies

In state Senate District 31, Republican nominee Brent Taylor took the early vote over Democratic nominee Ruby Powell-Dennis for the seat Republican incumbent Brian Kelsey is leaving following his indictment on federal campaign finance charges.

Taylor 28,602

Powell-Dennis 13,568

The early vote totals, which include absentee votes, were expected to be the majority of the votes cast in the combined totals Tuesday based on similar outcomes in recent elections.


Nov. 8 2022 election Jason Martin Gov. Bill Lee early voting Angela Rickman Griffith carrie schween Toniko Harris John Gillespie

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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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