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Crowded candidate pool for Memphis mayoral election could be a 'turnoff' to voters

“The system we have right now with the mayor’s race is simply not working,” Councilman JB Smiley Jr. said.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — The mayoral candidate filing deadline for the City of Memphis is Thursday, July 20, and there is already a long list of people who want the job.

As of late Wednesday, there were 20 potential candidates. In a city with no runoff, it is very likely the winners will not get anywhere near 50 percent of the votes.

The City of Memphis also does not have candidates run as a Democrat or Republican; the race is non-partisan which prevents the possibility of a primary election. The next person in charge of the city's 800-million-dollar budget will likely not have the support of half the voters.

Councilman JB Smiley Jr. and political commentators said there are far too many candidates for voters to digest.

“The system we have right now with the mayor’s race is simply not working,” Smiley said.

Political commentator Susan Adler Thorp said having so many candidates in the race is a "turnoff" to voters.

Smiley wants a runoff between the top two finishers if no one gets 50 percent of the vote.

“The reason it is important is because what we have now, the next mayor will potentially have slightly over 20,000 votes in a city with a population of over 630,000 people,” Smiley said.

Another option would be having partisan elections, which would require a primary election and a final race between the top Democratic and Republican nominees. But Thorp said that will not fix bigger issues.

“I think the downside to partisan elections is you have many voters who will only vote for a candidate that has a D by his or her name or an R by his or her name,” Thorp said. “And when you have an election where there is no party affiliation on the ballot, then it forces people to some extent to learn more about the candidate and the issues he or she stands for than the party label by their name.”

It is unlikely all 20 potential candidates will remain in the race for mayor through election day, but it is very likely that whoever gets the most votes will not represent the majority of voters.

“Think about this: someone who represents half the City of Memphis, in the super district, will likely receive more votes than the next Mayor of Memphis,” Smiley said.

The qualifying deadline for candidates to file their petitions ends at noon on Thursday, July 20, and the deadline to withdraw from the race is just one week after that. Voters will know how many mayoral candidates will be on their ballot very soon.

ABC24's coverage of the mayoral election, including our special candidate profiles, will take place in the weeks ahead.

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