Collierville mayor Stan Joyner, described in the opening paragraph of this week's cover story as an attendee who was presumably well pleased by U.S. district judge Hardy Mays' recent ruling permitting suburban referenda on municipal school systems, may have experienced some off-setting dismay upon the advent of early voting on Monday, July 16th.
It quickly developed that some 568 households in a newly annexed portion of Collierville had not been taken into account on ballots, including the referendum issue, designated for that city's voters.
A few miles away was Bartlett, another referendum suburb, whose mayor, Keith McDonald, has, for well over a year, been the spearhead of the suburban school movement, and early voters among Bartlett residents were beginning to report that they had been assigned primary ballots with the wrong House districts.
When Memphis residents — blogger David Holt being one, Unified School Board member Martavius Jones being another — began to report similar discrepancies, the plot thickened big-time. And Jones, in a communication to the Flyer on Monday of this week, made it clear that his wrong ballot issues extended to school board choices as well as legislative ones.
Then came blogger Steve Ross (vibinc.com) with the revelation, as of Monday morning, of more than 1,000 wrong ballots issued by that point of early voting. Ross, a candidate himself as Democratic nominee for county commission District 1 (but whose own race was unaffected by any known glitches) got his results by checking the state's master voting file, first against the General Assembly's redistricting maps and then against the Shelby County Election Commission's participating voter list,
Pity the poor election commission. At this point, its principal figures — administrator Rich Holden and Chairman Robert Meyers, in particular — are in line to become either villains or fall guys, and it may well be, as their defenders point out, that they are as likely to be the victims of the glitches that have lately bedeviled the commission's efforts as they are to be its perpetrators.
Those glitches, though, are fast becoming notorious. State election coordinator Mark Goins paid an inspection visit here early in July at the request of state senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) in an effort to set to rest suspicions regarding two circumstances then inflaming the public sphere. One was an alleged "erasure" by the SCEC of the voting histories of 488 African-American Democrats; another was the way in which the commission had reported the results of its biennial purge of the voter rolls.
In a meeting with members of the commission, its three Republicans and its two Democrats, Goins and other state officials seemed to establish that, as Holden and Meyers had maintained, the "erasures" never happened, though a mechanical mischance had produced an incomplete report of a special election runoff that had seemed to suggest as much.
As for the purge, the commission broke the number of post-purge eligible voters down into two groups — "active" and "inactive" voters — in a way that convinced many, including so seasoned (and nonpartisan) an observer as pollster Berje Yacoubian that an unreasonably large number, in the neighborhood of 150,000 voters, had been purged from the county rolls. For the record, Yacoubian is still unconvinced that the breakdown — done as prescribed by state law, said Holden and Meyers — is on the level.
After disposing of these issues, more or less to the satisfaction of those present, Goins acknowledged that his office had taken "very seriously" the circumstance in August 2010, when bad data was fed into the computer's inventory for that countywide election, causing an indeterminate number of election-day voters — in estimates ranging from scores to hundreds — to be initially prevented from voting on the erroneous grounds that they had already cast ballots during that year's early-voting period.
That glitch — caused by an IT technician's mistake, allegedly — was repaired in reasonably short order but not soon enough to allay the concerns of eight Democrats defeated in countywide races and two judicial candidates who also lost. Those 10 (all but one of whom were defeated by margins far greater than the number of voters potentially affected by the glitch) became plaintiffs in a bitter suit to void the election results.
Chancellor Arnold Goldin would ultimately issue a summary dismissal, but suspicions have remained in Democratic quarters of hanky-panky by the presiding GOP officials, especially since Republicans won both houses of the General Assembly in the 2008 election cycle.
That made the GOP the state's official majority party and guaranteed Republicans 3-2 margins and control of all 95 Tennessee counties. And what one side sees as something sinister and the other side sees as innocence itself, a neutral observer might construe as simple inexperience.
Just what is what remains to be seen.
• As indicated in this space last week, the Shelby County Commission is now riven by factionalism to the degree that agreement on significant issues is difficult.
One case in point is the interminable squabble over redistricting, which continues despite what had seemed a definitive ruling in favor of a single-member-district plan by Goldin.
It is still likely to be a done deal, if Goldin disposes quickly of a fresh commission motion that he reconsider his judgment, which was based on what he saw as the primacy of state law over the requirements of the county charter. (The difference is that state law requires a simple majority on third and final reading of a reapportionment resolution, the charter a two-thirds majority.)
Another issue on which disagreement is rife is that of who is to chair this contentious bunch during the next year? Four names were put into the hat during a lengthy meeting last Monday, and none came out with the seven votes needed.
The decision was put off for two weeks, with the known candidates being current Chairman Sidney Chism and Henri Brooks, both Democrats; and Wyatt Bunker and Mike Ritz, both Republicans.
Well, guess what? Millington Republican Terry Roland, aka "Mr. Congeniality," has decided to throw his hat into the ring.
"People were wondering why I didn't want to vote the other day for Wyatt Bunker," Roland says. (Actually, people weren't wondering; the two suburban Republicans have had profound disagreements, one of which — over redistricting — almost got physical and prompted Bunker to call the cops on Roland.)
"Well," Roland continues, "I'll give 'em something else to wonder about. I am now a candidate for chairman."
Though several of his colleagues are likely to be surprised (or even concerned), the idea of a candidacy by the colorful and controversial Roland is not as far-fetched as it seems at first blush. Roland has, after all, been shrewd enough to form situational alliances on specific issues with Democrats, and, on most hard-core GOP issues, he makes common cause with his fellow Republicans.
As far as his short fuse is concerned, Roland has threatened at least one Democratic colleague, too, Steve Mulroy (though only playfully, he contends), making him something of an equal-opportunity bully boy.
And the fact is, Roland arguably came as close as anybody else, this side of Judge Goldin, to brokering an agreement on redistricting.
At the very least, his candidacy may lend the next meeting of the commission an entertainment quotient to make more tolerable what is likely to be another lengthy affair.