Over a quarter of Memphis voters opt to not disclose race

Candidates hoping to unseat Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton will have to appeal to a broad base of Memphians who are registered to vote in the October race for mayor.

"For the city of Memphis, currently we have about 422,126 registered voters," said James Johnson of the Shelby County Election Commission.

  • 45% are black
  • 29% are white

The racial background of the remaining 26% is unclear, as those people, numbering more than 108,000, opted to omit that information from their voter registration forms.

When Mayor Willie Herenton won his first mayoral victory in 1991, nearly 248,000 people voted.  48% were black, and 44% were white.

But only 35% of registered city voters cast a ballot in 1995 when Herenton ran for a second term.  The racial make up of that race was 42% black voters and 30% white.

As the deadline to file for candidacy draws near, there is concern that the field of this year's potential candidates might divide the black vote.  Analyst Larry more says that might be a healthy lesson for the voters.

"In essence it means you're going to have a real election," Moore said. "You have to actually think and make decisions. It's very easy when it's one black candidate and three whites...bingo, I know who I'm going to vote for."

In 1991, when the Memphis elected Willie Herenton as its first black mayor, in the field of candidates was a relatively unknown political hopeful.
His name was A C Wharton.

to email Anna Marie Hartman.