With more than 52,000 early votes cast in Memphis’ Oct. 3 Municipal Elections, campaigners revved up the push for voters on the eve of Election Day.
On street corners, parking lots and places in between and beyond, candidates and designated representatives pitched hard to get the attention and commitment of those eligible to cast ballots for the city’s next mayor, city council members and municipal court positions.
Also vying for votes were those seeking to sway voters on the lone referendum – whether to raise the sales tax by half a cent to restore benefits cut from Memphis police and fireman five years ago, with any remaining going to support Pre-K education.
While the full mayoral race features 11 contenders, the frontrunners are incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer and former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton.
Strickland has asked voters to re-elect him to continue the “momentum” of his first term. Herenton, who served as the city’s mayor for more than 17 years before resigning, is projecting that the voter base that re-elected him for five consecutive terms will get him back to City Hall. And Sawyer has leveraged a progressive agenda, hoping that she garners enough voters to become the first woman to lead the City of Memphis.
Sawyer, a former Black Lives Matter activist, has promoted a national progressive campaign that hasn’t shied away from issues like LGBTQ and immigrant rights. At 37-years old, she has been instrumental in the removal of confederate statues and sits on the Shelby County Commission.
On the other end of the spectrum is 79-year-old Herenton, who became the first African American elected mayor in 1991. Citing an “unfinished agenda,” Herenton announced his candidacy on April 4, and has since raked in endorsements from several unions, including the Police Association and AFSCME Local 1733.
Herenton, who hasn’t been as visible as Strickland or Sawyer on the campaign trail, has publicly noted that part of his strategy was to focus on early voting participation. He deployed a fleet of buses – “The Herenton Express” – to provide voters with rides to the polls.
Early voting ended Saturday. Of the 52,000 votes cast more than 77 percent were 50 or older – higher than in 2015, but only slightly.
Of the 18 early voting precincts, White Station Church of Christ in East Memphis and Grace Fellowship in Whitehaven had the highest voter turnouts. Election Commission officials have said that historically, about half of the city’s voters participate in early voting.
Overall, city elections have not drawn out the majority of the city’s voters since Herenton beat then-mayor Dick Hackett in 1991. More than 65 percent voted during that election.
Conversely, younger voters generally have stayed home. While voters in the 26-35 age range represent the city’s largest voting base at 21 percent, just one percent had voted early as of September 21. Sawyer has said that “millennials don’t move unless activated,” and is hoping they are “activated” on Oct. 3.
Strickland is counting on his first-term accomplishments to carry him to victory. He’s most proud of universal pre-K funding, an eight-percent spike in awarding minority and women-owned business contracts, and the hiring of 500 new police officers since taking office.
Sawyer has criticized both Strickland and Herenton on their positions on adding more police to the streets. Herenton has labled Strickland “weak on crime.” The incumbent clapped back by referencing a recent TBI report that cited “significant drops” in crime in Memphis, including decreases in robberies, property crimes, burglaries and domestic violence. The decrease did not include homicide rates that were up more than 14 percent.
Other mayoral candidates on the ballot include: Leo AwGoWhat, Terrence Boyce, Steven Bradly, Robert (Prince Mongo) Hodges, DeAngelo Pegues, David Walker, Sharon A. Webb, and Lemichael Wilson.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. For polling times and location, please visit the Shelby County Election Commission’s site.