Shelby Co. Election Commissioner pushes to make FedExForum a potential polling location

Updated: Aug. 28, 2020 at 11:09 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The NBA made a big announcement Friday. The league is offering up all their arenas as potential voting sites.

Charlotte, Cleveland and Atlanta are just some of the cities where election officials chose to use their NBA arenas in some sort of capacity.

The Grizzlies confirmed through a press release that they offered FedExFourm to the Shelby County Election Commission back in June.

However, the Grizzlies say they were turned down in lieu of using local precincts.

But one election commissioner says he had no idea this option was even on the table.

“I would like to speak with some of the people at the NBA to see. We may need some funding or support to make it happen,” said Shelby County Commissioner Bennie Smith.

Smith hasn’t given up hope of using the home for the Grizzlies as the next home for the November general election.

Smith supports using the facility for early voting and Election Day.

During the 2016 presidential election more than 340,000 people voted in Shelby county.

Smith says if you compound those numbers with a pandemic that could become an issue.

“If you take COVID and you have to put six feet distancing per person, if you do that outside a polling place you’re going to be wrapped around a corner and in the street somewhere,” said Smith. “But if you use something like an arena who has state of the art facilities, they have impeccable seating. They can just configure an arena for a concert and have a basketball game later so they can have seating six feet apart and people can exercise their right to vote in comfort.”

The NBA announced Friday that they would be offering up their arenas as part of the league’s continued social justice and voting initiatives.

Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips says she met with Grizzlies officials but said FedExForum just isn’t a practical option.

“We think it’s easier for voters to vote in their neighborhoods so that’s why we have precinct polling places,” said Phillips.

Phillips says all precincts are large enough to social distance and Tennessee law only allows the change of a voting precincts in an emergency.

Phillips says she doesn’t think the COVID-19 virus would qualify as an emergency.

“Well we’d also have to have some other underlying problem you know if I don’t have enough poll workers or I don’t know if all of the churches suddenly decided they were not going to be polling places that would be a crisis but in it of itself COVID-19 hasn’t really in my mind triggered the bars in the law.”

Smith isn’t giving up yet.

He says with more than 70 days until election day, he’s going to push for FedExForum to be considered.

Phillips says it’s possible she could use FedExForum for another option and that’s to count all the absentee ballots.

She’s expecting about 100,000 mail-in ballots.

However, she does say the Agri-Center would be a better option since it’s closer to the election commission headquarters.

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