- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Republican school board member Kevin Vaughan and Democrat trial attorney Julie Byrd Ashworth will represent their parties in the June special election to fill a west Tennessee House seat vacated by a rookie lawmaker who resigned amid a sexual harassment investigation.

Election records show Vaughan defeated Frank Uhlhorn, a homebuilder and former alderman, by 49 votes in Thursday’s GOP primary in the race for the empty seat in House District 95 in suburban Memphis, which includes the Shelby County cities of Collierville and Germantown.

Records show the primary was marked by low turnout, with 4,322 of 51,413 eligible voters, or 8.5 percent, casting ballots. Vaughan, a Collierville school board member, tallied 1,066 votes, compared with Uhlhorn’s 1,017 votes.

Ashworth, who ran unopposed, took the Democratic primary. She and Vaughan will take on Independent candidates Robert Schutt and Jim Tomasik in the June 15 general election.

They are aiming to replace Mark Lovell, who stepped down in February after allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman at a legislative event. Lovell, president of a fair and carnival company, issued a statement through a public relations firm denying any wrongdoing. But he also apologized for what a spokeswoman called “any actions that may have been misconstrued as harassment.”

A House ethics panel later found he violated the Legislature’s sexual harassment policy before resigning. The investigative memo did not detail the specific allegations against Lovell.

Lovell held the seat for about a month before he stepped down. He defeated Republican incumbent Curry Todd, who was arrested days before the November vote on charges of stealing Lovell’s yard signs. Todd was caught on video taking a sign.

Todd, who was bailed out on the eve of the election by Lovell, was charged with theft of property. He is scheduled to appear in court on May 9.

Shelby County election administrator Linda Phillips said she expected a low turnout, partly because primaries in special elections tend to draw a lower percentage of voters.

Cheryl Soelke, a 59-year-old homemaker, chose Republican candidate Billy Patton, who finished third. She said she felt it was her responsibility to vote and wondered why more people hadn’t showed up to the polls.

“Why people take it so lackadaisically, I don’t understand,” she said.

Later she added: “I don’t know what more you could do to get people to vote, unless you put it on an app on their iPhone, but I don’t know if that would be legal.”


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