Politics » Politics Feature

Recount in Advance?

Challenges to an ongoing purge of "inactive voters" may bear fruit.

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A scant six weeks before some key voting on August 2nd, and a mere four months in advance of a presidential election, questions continue to be raised about matters relating to the roster of registered voters.

State Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle who, because of redistricting, is running for reelection against another Democratic incumbent, Beverly Marrero, in District 30, is one among many Democrats expressing concern about efforts by Republican-dominated election commissions, statewide as well as locally, to purge voter rolls.

After addressing a meeting of the state election commission in Nashville on Monday, Kyle reported that he had a commitment from members of the state body to come to Memphis at some point in the near future to look into allegations that attempts by the Shelby County Election Commission to pare down the list of eligible voters have been excessive.

"I don't know for sure who's coming or when, but I was assured that there will be an effort to investigate the situation," Kyle said.

Concern has been raised not only by a disputed allegation that voting histories had been erased from the records of almost 500 voters in Shelby County, mostly African-American and mostly Democrats, but from what has been an aggressive campaign to purge voter rolls of inactive voters.

This week's Flyer Viewpoint, by pollster/analyst Berje Yacoubian, addresses the issue. Here.

In related matters, state election officials and attorneys for Democratic plaintiffs have jointly petitioned U.S. district judge Kevin Sharp in Nashville to investigate claims that 11,000 voters' records statewide contain partial or completely blank voting histories.

In tandem with the request, there will apparently be at least a halt in further purging procedures until after the November election. • Yacoubian, who points out that he has no clients in the current race for Congress in the 9th Congressional District, has bypassed the ongoing primary races between Democrats Steve Cohen and Tomeka Hart and Republicans George Flinn and Charlotte Bergmann and has done some preliminary polling on what he sees as the eventual fall matchup between incumbent Democrat Cohen and GOP challenger Flinn.

In such an eventuality, said Yacoubian, Cohen got the nod from 67.2 percent of his sample of 400 voters, distributed as to factors of age, income, gender, race, political affiliation, and neighborhood. Flinn was chosen by 11.6 percent, and 21.2 percent professed themselves to be "not sure."

The same voter sample broke down on the presidential race this way: President Obama, 51.2 percent; Mitt Romney, 26.1 percent, with 22.7 percent unsure.

It would seem from such figures that Flinn, whose yard signs, reading "Dr. Flinn," have begun appearing with some frequency, has some serious missionary work to do.           

• Monday night's matchup of candidates for district attorney general, in a forum conducted by the League of Women Voters at the Hooks Central Library, was more of an even-steven affair than most attendees might have expected.

The proponents of incumbent District Attorney Amy Weirich, the Republican candidate, had every reason to believe that she would perform competently and well, and she did. If there was a surprise in the event, and perhaps there shouldn't have been, it was the degree to which Carol Chumney, the Democratic candidate, was able to match Weirich, answer for answer, overall.

Weirich has made a generous number of personal appearances since being appointed by Governor Bill Haslam in early 2009 to succeed her former boss, Bill Gibbons, now serving as state director of homeland security and public safety. That shows, as does her 21 years as a prosecutor, the ample trial experience that goes with it, and the sheer familiarity with the business of her office.

Chumney had been more of a question mark. She can boast 13 years in the state legislature and four years as a member of the Memphis City Council. But legislative experience — for reasons corresponding to the distance between Nashville and Memphis — tends to go less noticed than it should, and Chumney's council term, in which she figured as a constant and conspicuous critic of customary practices, is now five years in the past.

And, though she ran well in a mayoral race against then incumbent Willie Herenton in 2007, finishing a strong second in a three-candidate field, her followup race against eventual winner A C Wharton in the special mayoral election of 2009 was a relative bust.

Moreover, Weirich's opening remarks at Monday night's forum effectively removed from Chumney's arsenal the "glass ceiling" issue of gender representation: "My name is Amy Weirich. I am your district attorney general, and I am the first female to hold that job in Shelby County."

So far this campaign season, Chumney had not been front and center to nearly the same degree as Weirich — a fact that had troubled Democratic activists — though she did hold a recent press conference at the local party's new Poplar Avenue headquarters in tandem with Shelby County Democratic chairman Van Turner.

At that press conference Chumney — whose resumé includes the former chairmanship of a legislative committee on children's services and her sponsorship of reform measures — had expressed concern about a Department of Justice report finding deficiencies at Juvenile Court, ranging from what was arguably racial discrimination to vague presentation of charges at hearings.

Predictably, the Juvenile Court matter came up Monday night, though the League's strictures against ad hominem comments and direct challenges of one candidate against another, which were firmly stressed by LWV president and event moderator Peg Watkins, effectively kept the issue from gaining real traction.

And Weirich was able to argue plausibly that several of the alleged defects had been mitigated since DOJ investigators had acquired their data and that much of the problem could be blamed on incomplete reports by arresting officers.

In general, Weirich had a commanding presence, especially in regard to the practices and procedures of her office. But Chumney held her own, consistently making connections between issues being discussed and matters she had dealt with in the legislature and on the city council.

Monday night's event suggested that, all other things being equal, this could be a race. But there's the rub. Weirich has considerably more financial backing, and her support is to some degree bipartisan. If she wants to be a true contender, Chumney will have to play some serious catchup. But her performance Monday night should at least give her the opportunity to try.

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