Early voting continues to lag in the May 24 Nashville special mayoral election, as only 2,605 votes were cast in Nashville/Davidson County on Monday. Over nine days of early voting, only 8,419 votes have been cast.
With just five days of early voting left between now and Saturday, the total number of early votes cast will be about 22,000 if the remaining days average 2,600 votes a day. Typically, however, the last three days of early voting see an uptick in activity. If that happens, early voting totals could reach about 25,000.
You can see the daily breakdown by polling location, as provided by the Davidson County Election Commission to The Tennessee Star here:
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Those numbers, however, pale in comparison to the 59,000 early votes cast in the May 1 transit plan referendum, which Nashville/Davidson County voters rejected overwhelmingly by a 64 percent to 36 percent margin.
That election saw about 123,000 total votes cast.
If current voting trends continue, the total number of votes cast are likely to come in at a range between a low of 46,000 and a high of 53,000. All estimates within that range are less than half the total votes cast in the May 1 transit plan referendum.
The markedly lower voter turnout introduces an extraordinary element of uncertainty into the outcome of the May 24 special mayoral election.
While both public polls released in April gave Acting Mayor David Briley a large lead over second place Carol Swain and three other contenders with an outside shot to win–State Rep. Harold Love (D-Nashville), Metro Council Member At-Large Erica Gilmore, and jeff obafemi carr, his support was in the low 40s, not enough to put him at the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff.
Though Briley’s meek voice and uncommanding presence do little to inspire confidence in his leadership capabilities, he has the advantage of perceived incumbency.
The Nashville Metro Charter says “the vice mayor shall serve as mayor” until a new mayor is elected when a vacancy in the office occurs. It does not say “the vice mayor shall become the mayor.” Nonetheless, Briley’s public communications and campaign advertisements all refer to him as “Mayor Briley,” as opposed to “Acting Mayor Briley,” or the more accurate “Vice Mayor Temporarily Serving as Mayor Briley.”
Sec. 5.05. Election of vice mayor; presiding officer of council.
The vice mayor shall be elected for a term of four (4) years and until his successor is elected and qualified. He shall possess the qualifications of the mayor and shall be compensated at the rate of fortytwo hundred ($4,200) dollars per annum, payable semimonthly. In the event the office of mayor becomes vacant, the vice mayor shall serve as mayor and be compensated as such until the vacancy is filled at a special election or at a general election, as provided in section 15.03 of this Charter. During the time that the vice mayor shall serve as mayor, he shall cease to act as presiding officer of the council. (emphasis added)
According to the charter, then, David Briley is still the vice mayor, but his role is different–no longer the “presiding officer of the council,” he is “serving as mayor.” There apparently is no vacancy in the office of vice mayor–that job is still held by David Briley.
Should Briley be elected mayor in his own right, then a vacancy in the office of vice mayor will occur, but under the Nashville Metro Charter, it will not be filled until the next general election, in August 2019:
Sec. 15.03. Special elections.
There shall be held a special metropolitan election to fill a vacancy for the unexpired term in the office of mayor and in the office of district council member whenever such vacancy shall exist more than twelve (12) months prior to the date of the next general metropolitan election.
The special election shall be ordered by the county commissioners of elections and they shall give notice thereof as provided by Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-14-105. When a vacancy exists in the office of vice mayor or in the office of councilmember-at-large, said office shall remain vacant until the next general election at which time such vacancy shall be filled; however, in no event shall a special election be held to fill such vacancy.
Should Briley lose the special election for mayor, his job will still be vice mayor, but his role will once again be to “act as presiding officer of the city council,” and no longer to “serve as mayor.”
The combination of incumbency, a $400,000 plus campaign war chest, non-stop television commercials, and the inertia of a self-interested bureaucracy with a lot to lose if Briley is defeated, combine to give Briley a continued advantage, despite his shortcomings.
One thing is clear, however. Briley does not inspire a legion of volunteers in the way disgraced former Mayor Megan Barry did.
As the low voter turnout indicates, voter inspiration is a hard thing to come by in Nashville these days.
Among the challengers, Swain has raised the most money–her total take is likely knocking on $100,000 by now–and that, along with a small but dedicated campaign team has translated into the most visible number of voter touches, from radio ads, cable television ads, direct mail, billboards, to lawn signs.
When it comes to the lawn sign wars of the special mayoral election, the Swain campaign is the hands down winner. But the question remains is how will those signs and numerous voter touches translate into votes between now and the time the polls close at 7 pm on Thursday, May 24.
Gilmore, Love, and carr are also mounting energetic campaigns in terms of personal appearances, community meetings, and media interviews, but none of these three appear to have the same level of resources as Swain.
Unlike Swain, however, both Gilmore and Love have appeared on the ballot in Metro Nashville before, and each has a loyal following. Gilmore also has the name recognition advantage of sharing the same last name as her mother State Rep. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville), whose signs are visible throughout the State Senate District in Nashville she now seeks to represent.
Former talk radio host Ralph Bristol, who has raised less than $5,000 for his campaign on a gofundme page, severely damaged whatever slim chances he might have had with his ill-advised and poorly received comments at a candidate forum sponsored by Pumps and Politics last week.
With no publicly reported polling on the race available, political operatives around Metro Nashville are busily trying to read the tea leaves to weigh in with their best bets as the outcome of the election.
The consensus among several sources familiar with Nashville politics with whom The Star has consulted during the course of the campaign is that we are likely headed towards a runoff, with Briley coming in somewhere around 40 percent to 45 percent, and Swain finishing second in the 20 percent to 25 percent range.
Every source acknowledges, however, that these are just guesstimates–or even wild guesses–at best, and that the voters of Nashville/Davidson County may well have a surprise in store for everyone.
Those surprises range from Briley eking out a victory with 51 to 53 percent, or a runoff in which Briley finishes first with Love, Gilmore, or carr supplanting Swain for the coveted second position.
The only thing we know for certain is this: Early voting results will be reported at about 7:10 pm on Thursday night May 24. Those results are likely to give us a very good indication of what the final result will be when all the precincts finally report in about 11:00 pm that evening.
We will know then whether Nashville has a new mayor, or if two candidates are headed to a runoff election on June 28.