Within 60 days, Chancellor Kenny W. Armstrong is expected to issue a ruling that will reverberate throughout District 4 and quite possibly beyond.
Armstrong finds himself in that pivotal position after veteran school board member the Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. filed suit Wednesday (Aug. 22) challenging the results of the Aug. 2 election. Republican Kevin Woods squeaked out a narrow victory (108 votes) over Whalum, according to results certified on Monday.
The Chancery Court clock is now ticking on Whalum's request that he be declared the District 4 winner. Or that the election is decertified, with the District 4 results tossed out, making room for a new district election.
"This is unprecedented in Shelby County political history," Whalum told The New Tri-State Defender on Wednesday. "Not in recent memory has there been a candidate suing the election commission. The result will serve as a legal precedent either way. And we all have a part to play in this process. Elections must be impartial and fair."
About 3,000 early votes could not be counted because they were incorrect; among those was the vote of Whalum's wife, Sheila Whalum, the couple has said. Some ballots reportedly had Woods' name appearing unopposed in the 4th District of the Unified School Board. Also, suburban voters did not have a municipal schools referendum on the ballot.
"We are asking anyone who received irregular ballots or were refused the opportunity to vote in their own district during early voting or on election day, or were given a ballot with only my opponent's name on it – any of these experiences should be reported to attorney Robert Spence at 901-312-9160 as soon as possible or they can sign an affidavit in support of the suit," said Whalum.
"Ultimately, this matter begs the question – regardless of legal outcome – 'Is Memphis better than this?'"
Woods moving forward
When Whalum announced plans to ask for a recount, Kevin Woods was visiting District 4 schools, welcoming students back on their first day. When news reports showed the Whalums filing suit Wednesday morning, Woods was meeting with community designees, he said, to "strengthen our corporate and non-profit partnerships with public schools."
"My thoughts are that I should continue to focus on why I sought the appointment and eventually won the election," said Woods.
"I cannot be side-tracked by things out of my control. If what we teach our children is true – that work equals results – then we expected to win on election night. Therefore, my thoughts and focus continue to be on how we can improve education in Shelby County."
Woods expressed confidence that his victory is sure, recount or no recount.
We outworked our opponent by going straight to the voters for support, not other elected officials," said Woods. "We branded a message of more work and less talk. So I stand confident that more people voted for me on August 2nd than my opponent, and I expect those results to stand."
Whalum has also raised questions about the more than $150,000 pumped into local elections by the national organization, Stand For Children. The group bankrolled some seven candidates, including Woods.
"Like in most jobs, work gets noticed, and those who are not working eventually get exposed," said Woods. "I came to the board with no political backing, only the desire to work hard on behalf of the teachers, parents, and students of East Memphis and Hickory Hill. Those who believe that Memphis' best days are still to come got behind me.
"No matter what, I am proud to have the support of such a strong child advocacy organization like Stand For Children," said Woods. "I would encourage more parents and community activists to join this organization."
Armstrong's ruling notwithstanding, Whalum will retain his seat on the unified school board until 2013.