MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Special elections may be held to fill two legislative seats due to the expulsion of two Tennessee legislatures, Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones.
For Shelby County it would be the third special election for House District 86, costing taxpayers more money to put on these elections.
Every time you go to the ballot box, expenses add up. “You have to set up the equipment,” Shelby County Election Commission Bennie Smith said. “That’s the costly part of the exercise.”
With primary and general elections, Smith said it could easily top a million dollars but if elections are held outside their regular election periods they become “special” elections. Special elections are targeted at fewer people but still have a high cost.
“Getting the word out to a small subset of the county takes a lot of effort and the Election Commission doesn’t have money and we don’t have PR Resources to go and promote that there is yet another election,” Smith said. “So, the turnout is gonna be lower just because that is hard to do.”
Since State Representative Barbara Cooper passed away last year, District 86 has been on the ballot twice, January 24 and March 14.
The first election was held for the primary, where 2,359 voters cast ballots out of some 45,000 registered to vote. During the general election, only 455 ballots were cast.
Bennie Smith says the Election Commission budgeted about a million dollars for those two elections.
Election Administrator Linda Phillips says it came in a little less and another election could be around the same. “At least, probably in the neighborhood of at least $300,000 per election and $600,000 for the two of them,” Phillips said. “We will have to pay rent for the building. We have to pay poll workers to be there. That takes a minimum of 4 poll workers per site.”
Taxpayers will be paying for the special election, which may re-elect Pearson due to him indicating he would run for office again.
The Shelby County Commission could decide to appoint someone to the seat or let it go to the ballot for voters to decide.
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“The administrator of elections could elect to do it differently, but it seems more prudent that you would try to do something to where it is in line with an election that is already on the calendar which would be our October elections for Mayor and City Council,” Smith said.
If there is a special election for the seat, there is no information about when it will be held.
Philips says the primary election could be in June and the general election could be in August.