MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After an hours-long delay, final tallies for the August 4 Shelby County General and Tennessee Primary Election came in shortly after 2:30 a.m. Friday.
For the first time in Shelby County history, all county-wide offices will be held by Democrats, with Steve Mulroy unseating incumbent Amy Weirich for Shelby County District Attorney General.
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris won re-election, beating out Republican challenger Worth Morgan.
The Memphis mayoral and city council term limits referendum failed, with more than 65% of voters voting against the referendum. This means Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland cannot run for a third term in office in 2023.
Steve Mulroy declared victory shortly after 10:30 p.m. when only early voting results were in, which constituted about two-thirds of the vote by most estimates.
Sources told ABC24 Political Analyst Otis Sanford that as many as 30 polling locations were still open as of 8:30 p.m. due to long lines, meaning results couldn't be released by the Shelby County Election Commission until all those locations are closed. Polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m.
The August 4 elections in Tennessee included one of the largest ballots in Shelby County history, with 53 contested races in the county general election alone, including races for the Shelby County District Attorney General and Shelby County Mayor.
Here are some of the races we watched for on election night:
Shelby County District Attorney General
(D) Steve Mulroy
In Shelby County, the race between incumbent District Attorney Amy Weirich and opponent Steve Mulroy took center stage, and even gained some national attention.
Weirich has been a prosecutor for more than 30 years and was seeking a second eight-year term. Mulroy is a civil rights lawyer and former federal prosecutor who also has served as a Shelby County commissioner.
The candidates had different approaches to criminal justice issues. One of those is Tennessee’s new “truth in sentencing” law, which requires serving entire sentences for various felonies, including attempted first-degree murder, vehicular homicide resulting from the driver’s intoxication and carjacking. Twelve other offenses would require inmates to serve at least 85% of their sentences.
Weirich, a vocal supporter for the law, argues that it helps ensure justice for victims of violent crimes and makes those who break the law more accountable.
Mulroy said the law does not reduce crime or provide incentives for incarcerated people to rehabilitate and earn credit for work done in prison.
Shelby County Mayor
(D) Lee Harris
Incumbent Lee Harris ran against Memphis City Councilman Worth Morgan in another high-profile race.
Harris, who has held the office of County Mayor since 2018, ran on a platform that claims to be for the people of Shelby County, while Morgan is focusing on public safety in his campaign.
"I think I've delivered," Harris said at a July forum. "I think every day, every week—throughout the entirety of my career, those are the only issues I talk about. I stay away from any issue that does not have real relevance, in my view, to the lives of working families because I don't think there's enough people talking about challenges that they face."
Candidate Worth Morgan said that when someone is elected mayor, there are "two things that you inherently get."
"One is a podium like this in which you can dictate to the crowd and the answers," he said. "Sometimes you use it to elevate an issue in front of the community and conversation and public consciousness. Then you also get a real big table, and at that table I need people that are honest. I need people that are capable. I need people that are in it for the right reasons as we talk about some of these, honest to God, battles that we're fighting."
Referendum on Memphis mayoral term limits
Memphis voters got to decide if the Memphis City Charter would be amended to increase term limits on the Mayor's Office from two consecutive four-year terms to three such terms.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland told ABC24 political analyst Otis Sanford and the mayor's staff confirmed to ABC24 that if the referendum on term limits - which is on the Aug. 4 ballot - passes, he will seek reelection in 2023.
In 2019, Strickland told the public his second mayoral campaign would be his final campaign.
The city council voted in May to put the issue to voters. Strickland won his first term as mayor in 2015, then won again in 2019.
Shelby County Clerk
(D) Wanda Halbert
Shelby County Clerk Wanda Halbert has been under fire for a constant backlog of new state license plates which have caused massive delays for drivers needing to renew their tags.
In July, the Shelby County Commission recommended a vote of no confidence against Halbert, which was moved to Monday, after the general election.
The proposed resolution follows ongoing criticism from the public after weeks or months-long delays for new license plates, lengthy lines outside at office locations, and a slow hiring process to fill vacant positions.
Besides the 'no confidence' item, the commission resolution also asks the state to temporarily take over the distribution of license plates from the Clerk's office and cut down on a lengthy backlog.
Halbert fired back Wednesday, saying she inherited the issues she's being accused of creating, and that the County Commission hasn't done anything to help, saying millions of dollars were left off monthly county revenue reports which would have allowed her to run her office better.
“It’s hard to explain madness and irrational behavior," County Commissioner Mark Billingsley told ABC24. "The bottom line is we have thousands and thousands of people waiting for their car tags and we’ve tried everything we can do to work with her. This has become a spectacle.”
Jeff Jacobs is a 22-year veteran of the Shelby County Clerk’s office. During that time, he worked as the Business Tax Manager and as a Tax Investigator, before moving to the Shelby County Trustee's Office in 2010.
Harold C. Smith is a former Shelby County Treasurer of the Democratic Party, and worked as a teacher and principal under the Memphis-Shelby County School system.
Tennessee Governor Democratic Primary
Incumbent Republican Governor Bill Lee, running unopposed in the state primary election, is the favorite to win re-election, but could potentially run against one of two Memphis-area candidates running for nomination.
Dr. Carnita Atwater, a Memphis community leader, and Memphis City Council member J.B. Smiley Jr., ran against each other and Nashville's Jason Martin.
At a forum held in Memphis in July, the candidates spoke on issues related to education, among others, agreeing on main points but differing on whether to expand Medicaid, whether to legalize marijuana recreationally and the best approach to economic development.
"Give teachers a decent pay, a regular salary so they could have money to live off of, and not have to spend their money on children, on school supplies, I have spent my own personal money," Dr. Atwater said.
"We talk about how to put children in a better position, I'm going to tell you what you do, you pay teachers, you get them encouraged, so that they can do the very thing we want them to do, to put our children, train our children, put them in better position," Smiley added.
The candidates also laid out how they'd work alongside - or protect district attorneys - in their approach to fighting crime.
"I think all the DA, sheriff's, police officers, all the stakeholders should come together, and we come together with a comprehensive community prevention plan," Dr. Atwater said.
The last time a Democratic candidate won a Tennessee Governor's race was 2006.