Wanda Halbert has been a fixture in Memphis politics for over two decades. She first stepped into the public arena through her work on the Memphis Board of Education, later serving multiple terms on the Memphis City Council. In 2018, Halbert won election as Clerk for Shelby County, Tennessee. As Clerk, she oversees a broad range of essential functions related to elections, records, and county government operations. Halbert has built a reputation as a thoughtful leader committed to improving elections, expanding voting rights, and empowering African-American political leadership in Memphis.
Early Life and Education
Wanda Halbert was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. She graduated from the city’s Hamilton High School and went on to earn a degree in business administration from LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically black college in Memphis.
After college, Halbert built a career in medical claims processing. She worked for companies like Aetna and Cigna HealthCare. Her background in the health insurance industry gave Halbert firsthand insight into issues like access to healthcare and insurance affordability. These experiences would later inform her progressive policy stances on issues like Medicaid expansion.
Outside of work, Halbert has long been active in her local church. Faith and spirituality have provided an anchor throughout her life and political career.
Early Political Career
Halbert first became involved in Memphis politics through the public school system. She won election to the city’s Board of Education in 2000, serving for seven years. On the school board, Halbert advocated for policies aimed at improving student outcomes and strengthening public education.
After termed out from the Board of Education, Halbert set her sights on the Memphis City Council. She ran for the District 4 seat on the council in 2007 and won. Halbert would go on to serve four terms as a City Council member from 2008 to 2016. She chaired the budget and personnel committees and spearheaded initiatives like salary increases for city workers and crackdowns on predatory payday lending shops.
Shelby County Clerk
In 2018, Halbert entered the race for Shelby County Clerk. The Clerk oversees a wide array of county government functions, from administering elections to maintaining property and tax records. The opportunity to improve the electoral process weighed heavily in Halbert’s decision to run.
Halbert faced two challengers in the May 2018 Democratic primary—Jamal Whitlow and Mondell Williams. Her status as a longtime fixture in Memphis political circles proved decisive. Halbert garnered 75% of the primary vote, easily outpacing her opponents.
In the August general election, Halbert faced Republican nominee Donna Creson. Despite Shelby County’s Democratic lean, the race was expected to be close. Halbert campaigned vigorously, touting her government experience and passion for improving elections. On Election Day, she defeated Creson by a healthy 15-point margin—becoming the first African-American to serve as Shelby County Clerk.
First Term as Clerk (2018-2022)
As Clerk, Halbert adopted an activist approach—treating the office as a platform to expand voting access and turnout. She promoted voter registration drives and pushed for policies like early voting and same-day voter registration. Halbert also modernized the Clerk’s office by implementing electronic poll books and looking for tech upgrades.
In 2020, Halbert’s first major election as Clerk, Shelby County saw record turnout despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Her office helped implement emergency policies like expanded early voting sites.
While some election officials faced backlash over baseless voter fraud allegations after 2020, Halbert received praise for running an exemplary election. Outside of elections work, she digitized records for easier public access and kept a watchful eye on county government spending in her oversight role.
2022 Re-election Campaign
Halbert sailed to renomination in the May 2022 Democratic primary. She defeated three challengers, winning 72% of the vote.
In the August 2022 general election, Halbert faced Republican nominee Jeff Jacobs. She was targeted by outside partisan groups who sought to tie her to progressive national Democrats.
Halbert campaigned on her record of improving Shelby County’s elections and providing excellent constituent services as Clerk. She won re-election by a comfortable 9-point margin despite a national red wave cycle.
Second Term as Clerk (2022-2026)
As she began her second term, Halbert said enhancing cybersecurity around elections and digitizing more records for accessibility would be top priorities. She also aims to expand satellite early voting locations in underserved areas.
With the Clerk’s office running smoothly, some speculate Halbert may have ambitions for higher office. She has been mentioned as a potential candidate for Memphis mayor or Congress. However, Halbert has insisted she remains focused on her duties as Clerk and is not currently eyeing any other positions.
Political Positions and Views
On the local level, Halbert has championed criminal justice reform aimed at reducing recidivism and unnecessary incarceration. She has pushed to eliminate cash bail for low-level offenses and wants more city contracts to go to minority-owned businesses.
As a former school board member, Halbert continues advocating for public education. She wants to raise teacher pay, lower class sizes, and expand technical training and apprenticeships for students not headed to college.
Halbert’s city budget experience makes her fiscally pragmatic. She wants to upgrade Memphis’ sewer and water systems by securing federal infrastructure grants rather than raising taxes.
State and National Issues
Halbert has vocally called for Tennessee’s Republican governor to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. She supports Medicare-for-All at the national level. Halbert also advocates for broader voting rights policies like making election day a holiday, enacting same-day voter registration, and restoring felon voting rights.
She has campaigned for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot over the years. Halbert was an outspoken supporter of President Obama and stumped for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She served as a Biden delegate at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
Halbert resides in Memphis with her husband, Shelby County Commissioner Reginald Milton. She has two adult children.
In her limited spare time, Halbert enjoys traveling, listening to jazz music, and reading historical biographies. She is involved in several community organizations like her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha and The Links Incorporated, a service group focused on African-American women.
Halbert grew up attending Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Memphis and remains actively involved there today. Her faith provides a guiding light for her work and life.
Legacy and Impact
While her political career continues evolving, Halbert has already left a significant mark on Memphis. Her legacy includes:
- Improving elections as Clerk – Halbert modernized the Clerk’s office through new technology and expanded voter access. She ran smooth elections and boosted turnout, setting standards for accountability and transparency.
- Empowering African-American political leadership – As one of Memphis’ longest-serving black officials, Halbert has created pathways for other leaders of color. She is considered a mentor to up-and-coming politicians.
- Blazing trails for women – Halbert broke barriers as the first woman elected Clerk. She has inspired young girls and paved the way for greater female representation.
Still in her 50s, Halbert likely has many political chapters left to write. While her next moves remain uncertain, one thing is clear – Halbert will continue fighting to improve Memphis and lift up its citizens. Her passion for the city she calls home burns as bright as ever.
Wanda Halbert’s public service career has been defined by her dedication to improving elections, serving constituents, and expanding opportunities for African-Americans and women. As Shelby County Clerk, she has brought energy and innovation to an office often overlooked. Halbert has emerged as an influential figure shaping Memphis’ political landscape. With over two decades of experience, her guidance and mentorship will be crucial to fostering the next generation of the city’s leaders. While the coming years may bring new challenges and changes, Halbert has proven she has the drive and determination to take them in stride.
What were some of Wanda Halbert’s major accomplishments as Clerk?
Some of Halbert’s biggest accomplishments as Clerk include modernizing the office through new technology, running smooth and transparent elections, implementing early voting and same-day registration, and digitizing records for better accessibility. She also boosted voter turnout to record highs.
What are some of Wanda Halbert’s policy priorities?
Halbert’s policy priorities include criminal justice reform, increasing public education funding, expanding Medicaid and voting rights, and supporting Democratic candidates and policies. On the local level, she has focused on issues like reducing incarceration and getting more city contracts for minority-owned businesses.
How many terms did Wanda Halbert serve on the Memphis City Council?
Halbert served four terms on the Memphis City Council from 2008 to 2016. She represented District 4 and chaired important committees like the city’s budget and personnel committee.
Has Wanda Halbert shown interest in running for any offices besides Shelby County Clerk?
Some speculate that Halbert may have ambitions for higher office, like Memphis mayor or Congress. However, Halbert has said she remains focused solely on her duties as Clerk and is not currently considering runs for any other positions.
What is interesting about Halbert’s path to becoming Shelby County Clerk?
It’s notable that Halbert was the first African-American elected Clerk in Shelby County history. She broke barriers by winning the office and paved the way for more leaders of color. Halbert has been a trailblazer throughout her political career.