The Investigators: Will more absentee ballots in Tennessee mean more voter fraud?

Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 11:30 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Prior to Thursday night’s ruling, the WMC Action News 5 Investigators uncovered that Shelby County voters were already requesting absentee ballots in record numbers.

The next Tennessee election is exactly nine weeks away.

“Traditionally, most of the vote fraud in Tennessee has been accomplished through the use of absentee ballots, which is why it’s fairly restrictive,” said Linda Phillips, Shelby County Election Commission Administrator.

The Investigators wanted to know how prevalent voter fraud was in Shelby County during the last Presidential election year.

“How many incidents of voter fraud did the Shelby County Election Commission catch in 2016?” We asked.

Phillips wrote back saying the person who had her job back then “thinks there were between 4 and 6 that were turned over to the Attorney General.”

That would be, at most, .001% of the 577,574 votes cast in Shelby County in 2016.

“We don’t see very much of it,” said Phillips. “Most of it comes in the application area. Wives will sign their husband’s name on an application for a ballot or parents’ will do it for their college-aged children. We stop it then because the signatures don’t match.”

The Investigators asked Phillips how she and her employees know if someone is being truthful if they apply to vote absentee.

“When they sign the absentee application and the affidavit when they have the ballot, they swear they’re telling the truth. We don’t have a lot of choice except to believe them,” she said.

Phillips said she’s also concerned about the amount of absentee ballots she and her employees would have to process.

According to data provided by her office, in August 2016 more than 1,189 people voted absentee. So far, 1,560 people have requested ballots for the August election.

“We’re not accustomed to processing that many ballots in a single day,” said Phillips. “I have a workable plan but it involves instead of having the 8 people we have count absentee ballots, I will have 60.”

To hire more people and purchase more equipment requires more money.

According to Think Tennessee, a non-profit research and advocacy organization, there is approximately $55 million in federal funding available to make new investments in Tennessee elections.

Tennessee State Representative London Lamar from Memphis told The Investigators that money could help Phillips expand access to absentee ballots before the election on August 6.

“She would have the money to, in fact, make sure she can put systems in place to cut down on voter fraud, hire the staff she needs to process the absentee ballots and make sure we’re getting the number of absentee ballot requests fulfilled,” said Lamar.

According to Think Tennessee, only 15 states require a reason or “excuse” to vote absentee, including Mississippi and Arkansas.

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