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‘Swerve the Purge’ powers voter-registration push

The race to November kicked into overdrive Tuesday (Sept. 20) as the Shelby County Voter Alliance (SCVA) staged a massive voter registration event in South Memphis.

Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day, and SCVA swept through the community surrounding Jesse Turner Park with canvassing teams and voter registration forms.

Hundreds of contacts were made as Memphis Artists For Change teams educated voters about the electoral process.

Memphis Artists For Change is a part of the Shelby County Voters Alliance, said SCVA organizer Ian Randolph.

“Some have been purged and don’t know they are no longer on the rolls,” Randolph said. “There are expungement issues, and we have a process in place. We want everyone to exercise their voting power.”

As canvassing teams returned to their 1310 S. Bellevue Blvd., headquarters, the park filled with families from the neighborhood.

A raised DJ’s platform blared out familiar old school hits and rap favorites. Young men showcased their best moves on the basketball court, and there was food enough to feed an army.

“The reason it looks like a family reunion, or a block party of neighbors is because that’s exactly what it is,” said Tameka Green, executive director of Memphis Artists For Change. “We are a community, and we like to commune. You just can’t go into a place and talk about voter registration or anything else without communing with people first.”

Members of the Shelby County Voters Alliance were in full effect during the voter registration drive in Jesse Turner Park on Tuesday. Pictured (l-r): Joshua Adams, Rickyta Mallett and Ian Randolph. (Courtesy photo)

Tuesday’s “Swerve the Purge” event was a part of a week-long schedule of events by Memphis Artists for Change, from Monday, Sept. 19, to Saturday, Sept. 24.

“We wanted to get more involved in helping people register to vote,” said Green. “More than 100,000 people have been purged from the voting rolls, and many of them don’t even know. So, we are encouraging everyone to check their voting status online and make sure it’s still active.”

As of July 1, there were 583,829 total voters in Shelby County; 547,829 were listed as active, according to Shelby County Election Commission data.

Some 28 percent are Black, and some 19 percent are white, according to the information on voter registration forms. Voters in Tennessee are not required to identify their race.

Green said canvassers found residents in South Memphis who want to vote, but said their criminal record made them ineligible to vote.

“That’s where voter education comes in,” said Green. “There are steps to having voting rights restored. So much misinformation exists surrounding a criminal record and voting rights being permanently lost. We help guide ex-offenders through voter restoration.”

Randolph said the organization has devised a six-month process by which voting rights can be restored to ex-offenders. 

“If a person was convicted of a misdemeanor, voting rights can be restored through a simple process,” said Randolph. “With felons, it is a bit more complicated. But it can be done. There are steps to take and forms to be completed, but the voter alliance is here to help guide Shelby County residents through the process.”

Kevin Bland, 28, who will vote for the first time in November, was cheered on as he addressed an enthusiastic crowd.

“I’m excited because I will be a first-time voter in November,” said Bland. “We need people like the voting alliance to take time and educate us about voting. I am so grateful. There is power in voting.”

Bland then led a chant of “Power to the People.”

Bland later told The New Tri-State Defender a few more details about his life.

“Most of my family is here in South Memphis,” Bland said. “I am in the military, stationed at Millington. My grandmother used to talk to me all the time. Now, I understand so much, and things make more sense.

“Voting is a right and a privilege. Our people died so that we could vote. And I’m telling other young people, ‘We need to vote.’”

Voting registration activities for the week include phone banking, more canvassing, and a noon press conference on Friday (Sept. 23) in front of the Shelby County Election Commission.

Saturday’s (Sept. 24) culmination, “Healing in the Park,” is scheduled from 4-7 p.m., at Health Sciences Park at Madison Avenue and S. Dunlap Street, with food, music, and help with restoration and voting registration. 

Additional information is available at: MemphisArtistsForChange.Org.

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