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NAACP’s national president makes Shelby County pitch to counter voter suppression

“Bad actors” is the label pinned on the Shelby County Election Commission by national NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who made a turn-out-to-vote pitch during a visit to Memphis on Friday.

Johnson predicted a heavy Election Day (Nov. 6) turnout by Shelby County voters feel disrespected by recent actions taken by the election commission regarding polling places and ballots.

“In Shelby County we’ve had to file lawsuits twice against this election commission because we now understand that they are bad actors,” Johnson said in a press conference at the Memphis Branch NAACP offices on Vance.

“The number one way to decrease voter suppression is to turn out to vote,” he said. “That is what this branch is about doing and on Nov. 6 we’re going to see a higher turnout in this county because of the disrespect this election commission is showing to the residents of this county, black and white alike.”

Johnson was flanked by state NAACP president Gloria Sweet-Love and local NAACP President Deidre Malone. He fielded questions about Thursday’s Chancery Court ruling in the favor of plaintiffs seeking judicial help regarding 4,000 to 6,000 disputed voter registration forms.

Judge JoeDae Jenkins ordered the Shelby County Election Commission to devise a help desk process for Election Day that mirrors the process now in place during the Early Voting period.

In addition, the commission was ordered to provide plaintiffs with a daily list (beginning Oct. 26) of the 4,000 to 6,000 applicants processed and to immediately notify the applicants of their status and the reason why their forms had not led to valid voter registration cards.

The ruling, which is being appealed by the Election Commission, was sought by the Memphis Branch NAACP, The Tennessee Black Voter Project and several individuals convinced that the election commission was on the wrong side of the law by holding up voter registrations without proper notification to individuals.

Memphis Branch NAACP President Deidre Malone. (Photo: John Semien)

Malone said the local chapter needed the green light from the state and national organizations to move forward with their participation in the lawsuit that resulted in the Chancery Court ruling.

Johnson said he has traveled across the country and noticed that voters, particularly African-American voters, are energized about upcoming election.

“If we are concerned about the current landscape of hate and intolerance, the remedy for that is voting,” he said. “Our theme this year is to defeat hate and vote. … (A)nytime individuals who are charged with the responsibility of carrying out an election pursue a course of action to suppress the vote it should give us all pause,” Johnson said.

He called the chancery court ruling on Thursday “a positive step in the right direction as the court has directed the Shelby County Election Commission to simply follow the law. That’s important. …Our goal is to make sure democracy is open and fair and individuals are afforded to participate and for that reason alone it is a victory.”

State NAACP president Gloria Sweet-Love. (Photo: John Semien)

Sweet-Love said she was in Memphis Friday to add weight and show support.

“It’s really a critical year because the way Shelby County goes is also the way Tennessee goes,” she said. “If you suppress voters in Shelby County, you probably suppress more minority voters than anywhere else in the state.”

Malone said the recent actions of the election commission and the lawsuits they have prompted have resulted in a lot of confusion for voters.

“(T)hat’s the reason we hope the voters make some phone calls, call the NAACP, call their elected officials to seek clarification that you might have concerns about, specifically instant runoff voting,” she said. “The local branch of the NAACP took the position that we want instant runoff voting repealed so we want people to vote for the repeal and a lot of people are confused about for or against.”

The Shelby County Election Commission issued a short statement after being contacted about the NAACP press conference.

“The court’s decision was very disappointing,” Linda Phillips, administrator of elections for the commission, said in the statement. “Our lawyers are preparing an appeal.”

Early voting runs through Nov. 1. Election day is Nov. 6.


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