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Early-voting window opens for District 86 Special Primary Election

With three location options, eligible voters in House District 86 can now cast early-voting ballots for the Special Primary Election set for June 15.

The early-voting window opened on Friday and will be open through June 10.

Two candidates, Rep. Justin Pearson and David Paige, and educator, are competing in the Democratic Primary for the seat long held by the late Rep. Barbara Cooper.

No candidates qualified for the Republican Primary. The Democratic Primary winner will face Jeff Johnston, a little-known independent candidate, in the General Election on Oct. 5. Write-in candidates can file until June 14.

District 86 extends from the Mississippi state line to Millington and unincorporated northern Shelby County.

It has been a winding road to this latest Special Election. Cooper was the oldest-serving state legislator when she died Oct. 25 at 93. She was posthumously re-elected to the seat in the Nov. 8 general election and had represented the district for 26 years.

In January, Pearson easily emerged from a field of 10 candidates to capture the Special Election Democratic Primary. With no Republican Primary challenger, Pearson’s election was assured and the Shelby County Commission then appointed him to represent the district on an interim basis.

In early April, Pearson and fellow representatives Justin Jones of Nashville and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville faced expulsion by the Republican-controlled state House after a House-floor protest pushing for gun-control legislation in the aftermath of the mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville.

Johnson narrowly survived. Pearson and Jones were expelled, only to be reappointed by local government bodies pending special elections. Along the way, the trio rocketed to national fame and wide-spread acclaim.

“Once again, we have a unique situation in District 86,” said Linda Phillips, Administrator of Elections for the Shelby County Election Commission. “But, like any election, we cannot assume the outcome, and we must manage it according to all applicable laws.”

The Special Election will cost $400,000, with the state of Tennessee covering the cost, said Phillips.

Paige ran unsuccessfully for the Memphis-Shelby County School Board last year. In an online pitch for his District 86 candidacy, Paige describes. himself as an “educator for 25+ yrs, Westwood Neighborhood Association (President), community activist, and personally trained by Rep. Barbara Cooper.”

Explaining why he is seeking the seat, Paige gives this online answer: “We need someone with the determination to stand out in the crowd when it comes to taking care of the needs of the constituents of District 86.”

An environmental activist, Pearson built name recognition and goodwill within the district as a co-founder of Memphis Community against the Pipeline, which opposed the Byhalia pipeline.

The ill-fated project would have cut through neighborhoods in Southwest Memphis. Pipeline opponents said the proposed pipeline would risk contaminating the Memphis Sand Aquifer, the city and region’s main source of fresh drinking water.

After winning the Special Election Democratic Primary in January, Pearson said, “I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and the great Representative Barbara Cooper, who served … with integrity and strength for 26 years. I hope to continue her legacy of servant leadership…”

Here are the early-voting locations and hours:

(For more information, visit Shelbyvote.com; electionshelbytn.gov; call 901-222-1200.)

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