Early voting is set to begin in less than two weeks. Yesterday, I went through some of the demographic and location issues facing voters. Today’s post will be a little less “data-y” and speak more to some of the “whys”.
There are a lot of “whys”. And there are a lot of possible answers to those “whys”. What’s worse, even answering many of those questions doesn’t answer the real fundamental question: Why move from a long-held standard of two days of limited voting to four days?
That’s a tougher nut to crack.
It worked in May
As I mentioned yesterday, the May 2018 election saw greater turnout than any May election in recent memory.
Now its true, May elections only happen every four years, so there’s not a lot to go on. But its also true that they have always been low turnout affairs.
Since the Election Commission doesn’t have the May 2010 Primary election listed, there’s no way to really look at the data from last time there was a slew of open seats in County government.
According to Bill Dries at the Memphis Daily News, 65,000 people participated in the May 2010 election…a year that was a GOP wave year. The May 2014 election saw just 56,000 voters. But there were few real contests on the GOP side, and as a result, low turnout.
This year saw huge gains in turnout across the board. Over 75,000 voters participated this May, a 34% increase over May 2014 and a 15% increase over May 2010. GOP voters saw the biggest increase this year, 73% more GOP voters turned out over May 2014. This is likely due to the presence of real contested elections.
Democrats also turned out in higher numbers. This year saw a 16% increase in participation over 2014. But Democrats also had a contested 3-way primary in 2014 that was VERY close. So while the increase may not be as much, the simple fact that there was ANY increase this time around says something.
Was that across-the-board increase due to an additional two days of countywide voting? I can’t say for sure. We’d need to see several more cycles of elections before anyone could say definitively. But considering around 55% of all voters in May voted early, it seems fair to say that more early voting helped drive more turnout.
Which begs the question: The Election Commission is consistently bemoaning the lack of voter participation. Why, if participation is the measure of success, would you limit the number of days and locations it is available?
Fear of a Blue Wave
This year there’s a real fear of a “blue wave” in GOP circles. Now most of the “blue wave” talk is about national politics, but there’s some evidence to suggest we’ll at least feel a rising tide here in Shelby County this August.
Democrats have viable candidates across the board with active and energized campaigns.
That’s not to say that Republicans don’t, its just to point out a critical difference this year over the last County open seat election in August 2010.
2010 saw many Republicans vacate their seat under the assumption that local Democrats couldn’t be beat. Current GOP candidate and former County Commissioner Chris Thomas was one of those folks who probably rued the day after that August election in 2010.
That 2010 election had far fewer active Democratic campaigns, and almost no real coordination between them and the County party…something the GOP does exceedingly well.
Over 150,000 people voted in that August 2010 election. On the primary side, the turnout was split pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans. But that even split led to GOP candidates sweeping all countywide elections…something that seemed unfathomable at the time.
Of course, there were other things going on as well in 2010. The rise of the Tea Party, and the reach of that group down into state and local elections helped buoy County candidates fortunes.
It remains to be seen if local candidates can harness some of the national energy that has propelled Democrats recently. But despite Shelby Co. GOP Chair Lee Mills’ rhetoric to the contrary, local Republicans don’t seem to want to take the chance.
Reducing the number of days and locations available, all while opening additional locations in solidly GOP areas is one way to drive additional GOP turnout.
That said, availability isn’t the only thing that will drive turnout in August.
State Primary Races Driving Turnout
One of the biggest drivers of turnout in the August 2010 election was a contested election for the GOP nomination for Governor.
That race was huge, pitting two arch conservatives against the more moderate Bill Haslam, who ultimately won the nomination.
That battle alone drove GOP voters to the polls, more so than the County General if memory serves.
This year is strikingly similar. Contests for the Democratic and GOP nod for Governor, and the GOP nomination for Senate, will more likely than not drive turnout this time around.
All of those contests have a slew of multi-millionaires spending tons of cash to drive turnout. That’s the biggest threat to County Democratic candidates this August.
Which is another reason for suspicion of the move to relocate two of the three earliest early voting locations out to ruby red east Shelby Co.
By making more locations available and easy to access for those voters, is the Election Commission seeking to tip the scales for County Republicans?
That’s certainly what it looks like.
Without the benefit of the “data” Elections Administrator Linda Phillips mentioned, one is only left to opine that there might be some other motivating factor involved.
There’s still this fundamental question that needs to be answered: Why move from a long-held standard of two days of limited voting to four days?
To the best of my knowledge, no one has really asked or answered that question.
There may be one reason…May 2018.
Its my understanding that the increased availability of early voting locations in May was little more than an accident. That error cost the Election Commission a bunch of money they probably had slated for other elections.
So maybe this is more simple than it seems? Maybe the Election Commission is really just trying to cover their ass fiscally, and “take back” the two days they accidentally “gave” voters in May.
If that’s the case, its kind of funny since the County Commission indicated they would “fund” the restoration of days. But then the Election Commission would have to cop to the mistake…something they are very resistant to even with overwhelming evidence.
Or maybe this really is part of a concerted effort to game state law to the advantage of the GOP. There’s a track record of GOP linked groups pushing this agenda. It wouldn’t surprise me if that kind of effort is happening here as well.