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Shelby County voters will not use new voting machines in 2020 presidential election

Updated: Sep. 28, 2020 at 5:50 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County’s election administrator said Monday more equipment is needed to process absentee ballots in the county in November’s general election. Without it, local results may not be available on election night.

Administrator of Elections Linda Phillips was scheduled to speak before the Shelby County Commission on a nearly $6 million funding item, which included absentee ballot processing equipment and new voting machines, which will unfortunately not be in use for November.

That means county voters will once again use 15-year-old voting machines to cast ballots. Phillips said implementing new machines at this moment is not feasible given social distancing concerns.

“Poll worker training isn’t very satisfactory unless it is hands-on. And there is no way to accomplish that in a pandemic,” she said.

Phillips said that her office is preparing to process up to 100,000 absentee ballots, and 20,000 requests have already been received.

Friday, the Memphis Grizzlies announced the Shelby County Election Commission would be using FedEx Forum as a location to count absentee ballots.

Phillips said absentee ballots received on Election Day will be counted at the O.C. Pleasant Operations Center on Nixon Drive. Ballots received before Election Day will be counted at the FedEx Forum, since they’ll already be verified in the voter registration system. Tennessee law prevents absentee ballots from being counted until Election Day.

Election Commissioner Bennie Smith pushed for FedEx Forum to be used as a polling place, as is being done in other communities around the nation. Smith said Monday he opposes the use as an absentee counting site.

“It doesn’t do anything for the voter. It just does something for the commission, and I think that’s a disservice to the public. I don’t think it’s a good use of the space,” Smith said.

Phillips contends because of limited voting equipment, that was not feasible.

“If you have to use FedEx Forum, you have to take one of the neighborhood spots away. And it just didn’t seem like a good trade for the voters,” she said.

Early voting starts in Shelby County on Oct. 14. Phillips said per Tennessee law, they cannot expand the number of days of early voting past two weeks, but they can expand the hours.

Many of the 26 early voting polling places will be open this cycle from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. Find a link to the ones open this fall here.

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