The Shelby County Election Commission took a 1-2 punch combination on Friday as the NAACP Memphis Branch and the Shelby County Democratic Party filed Chancery Court lawsuits in the wake of controversy about early voting sites.
Early voting begins July 13. Multiple voting locations will be open for the bulk of the early-voting window, which extends through July 28. At first, the Election Commission opted to limit the first few days of early voting to the Agricenter on Walnut Grove Rd. close to Germantown, saying it was the county epicenter.
After much community push back, the commission opted in favor of opening three open locations during the first four days: New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Germantown, Abundant Grace Fellowship Church in Whitehaven, and the SCEC’s operations center at 980 Nixon Drive.
“It’s not a plan, it’s a scheme,” Rep. G.A. Hardaway said of Election Commission’s decision during a press conference that Shelby County Democratic Party representatives held on Friday afternoon. “A scheme designed to suppress the vote.”
The lawsuits allege the Election Commission’s actions would disenfranchise voters, particularly those in the inner city. The push is for all 21 sites to open at the start of early voting on July 13.
“This isn’t the first time that there’s been an causation or some complaints about the decision making processes and procedure at the election commission,” Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Corey Strong said.
“It is clear that the Election Commission is refusing to take our concerns and the communities we serve seriously,” Strong said. “The Election Commission’s solutions are unacceptable and do not adequately address the unfair and unjust consequences that these actions place on the average voter in Shelby County.”
The New Tri-State Defender did reach out to the Shelby County Election Commission for comment, with no on-the-record response by press time for this story.
Attorney Alexander Wharton filed the lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP. Soon after,
Memphis Branch President Deidre Malone detailed the group’s position in a released statement.
“As the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, our focus has always been to protect the sanctity of the voters’ rights,” Malone said. “In review of the current policies enacted by the Shelby County Election Commission, it is clear that there is a potential for disenfranchisement by not opening all voting sites early.”
Malone said the NAACP lawsuit seeks to “remedy that concern and balance the opportunity for all Shelby Countians, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or political party, to make it to the polls without unnecessary barriers.”
Shelby County Republican Party Chairman Lee Mills responded to the controversy on Twitter saying, “Frivolous lawsuit. Where was the lawsuit when the downtown location was the only open location and ‘disenfranchised’ suburban voters?”
The New Tri-State Defender has learned that some Democrats are planning a “D-Day” – voting in predominately Republican locations in droves – during the first four days of early voting
Strong said the Shelby County Democratic Party will do its part to make sure people get to the polls, adding that is the responsibility of the election commission to make sure people are informed as well.
“Remember, this isn’t about us,” Strong said. “We didn’t disenfranchise voters. It’s the election commission’s responsibility to educate voters and execute the fair non-partisan election process. If you failed at one, don’t look at the Democrat or Republican party.”