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Shelby Co. Election Commission requests $400K to alert voters of precinct changes

Published: Mar. 1, 2022 at 5:55 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The number of Shelby County voting precincts is 26 less than in the 2020 election. With those voting locations approved, the Shelby County Election Commission now wants more than more than $400,000 to alert voters of the changes.

Some Shelby County Commissioners are taking up big issues with that.

The Shelby County Election Commission is required by law to alert voters of precinct changes. The money would go toward buying the mailers to send to voters.

One commissioner called it blood money saying the new voting system is disenfranchising voters.

“Absolutely not,” Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, D-District 7, emphasized Monday at the Shelby County Commission meeting.

Sawyer took her allotted three minutes of comment to condemn the Election Commission’s new precinct lines that took 166 precincts down to 140, and its new names for the precincts which sawyer called confusing and unnecessary.

“Give them a half a million dollars so they can notify Black people they’re cutting out precincts,” Sawyer said. “So they can notify Black people that they are doing what we have told them over and over not to do and disenfranchise them?”

The Shelby County Election Commission said following legislative redistricting the Commission readjusts precinct lines. This happened because of the 2020 Census.

“It was said we were disenfranchising,” former Shelby County Election Commission Chair Brent Taylor said. “Voters regardless of how many precincts you have whether you have 255 or 140 every voter in the county is still only assigned to one voting precinct.”

Taylor resigned from his position as chair of the Shelby County Election Commission Monday night following the meeting where the 140 sites were approved. He plans to announce his future political plans next week.

He said if the County Commissioners do not fund the mailings the Election Commission can take them to Chancery Court.

Along with new locations, the Election Commission also has new names for the precincts. Now, the sites will have five numbers and one letter separated by three hyphens. The one letter corresponds to if the site is in a municipality or in an unincorporated area.

Here’s how those letters breakdown:

  • A – Arlington
  • B – Bartlett
  • C - Collierville
  • G - Germantown
  • I - Memphis
  • L - Lakeland
  • M - Millington
  • U - Unincorporated

Sawyer questioned why the largest voting location, Memphis, was marked with an ‘i’ not an ‘m.’

“Why would the largest portion of Shelby County have an unambiguous letter such as ‘i’,” Sawyer said. “How do we expect our voters to understand in this new system, even if we give this blood money of $400,000 to you all to notify them, that ‘i’ represents Memphis and ‘m’ represents Millington? It’s confusing and unnecessary.”

“Quite frankly they’re only interfering with their own voters because their voters without that mailing won’t know where to vote, they won’t know where their voting precinct is, they won’t know who their county commissioner is, what district they’re in. So the County Commission in an effort to be petulant is doing their voters a disservice.”

Shelby County Commissioners were also critical of the absence of Taylor and administrator of Elections Linda Phillips at Monday’s meeting, which happened at the same time as the Election Commission meeting.

“Linda Phillips ain’t here because she’s a coward,” Sawyer said.

“Come down here and see us Ms. Phillips, Mr. Taylor. We ain’t going nowhere,” said Commissioner Eddie Jones, D-District 11.

“We were at our job doing our job,” Taylor said. “We were at the Election Commission doing our meeting. Our absence was not cowardice, it was competence.”

The Shelby County Commission sent the request back to committee. Early voting for the May primary starts April 13.

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