Memphis voting activists, clergy express concerns over possible voter suppression

Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 8:04 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Local activists and clergy members gathered Wednesday to express concerns about possible voter suppression by the Shelby County Election Commission ahead of the May primary election.

″Every vote matters. Every voter matters,” said Rev. Dr. Earl Fisher.

Fisher is the founder and Executive Director of Up the Vote 901.

He joined fellow clergy members from the Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis to express concerns about possible voter suppression.

″By any means necessary our people are going to have access,” he said.

This comes after a resolution by the Shelby County Election Commission to eliminate 30 voting precincts for the upcoming May 3 primary election.

Early voting is April 13 through the 28, but most of the precincts -- many of which are at churches -- are closed for the first three days because of Holy Week, leaving the Election Commission Downtown the only precinct open at the start of early voting.

Pastor J Lawrence Turner’s church, Mississippi Boulevard, is one of the early voting precincts this year.

”We were not asked concerning whether we wanted to be open or not, and I think other clergy who host precincts as well will share those very same sentiments,” Pastor Lawrence said.

Clergy members say voter suppression isn’t new in Shelby County.

It’s something they’ve been fighting for decades.

2:04:27 - 36Rev. Dr. Earl Fisher - Up the Vote 901

″It is ridiculous to be talking about rolling back access instead of increasing more access. If we want to see Tennessee voter turnout increase, increase more sites,” Fisher said.

Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner says Election Commissioner Linda Phillips is requesting more than $300,000 to send mailers to Shelby County Residents notifying them of changes.

It’s something, Turner says is too late in the game.

He says, if necessary, they might pursue litigation.

“We’re asking that they open up eight to 10 well-known precincts on the 13, 14 and 16th. We think that that’s something that’s feasible, that’s doable,” Commissioner Turner said.

Action News 5 reached out to Linda Phillips for a comment on the precinct closures but have not heard back.

Meanwhile, Up the Vote 901 and local clergy are asking residents to call the election commission and voice their concerns at 901-222-1200.

Linda Phillips from the Shelby County Election Commission gave the following statement:

The Election Commission consolidated 26 precincts after the legislative bodies finished redistricting.  This is still 45 more precincts than are required by state law.  With between 60% and 70% of voters choosing to vote early, some small precincts would have fewer than 60 election day voters.  Pollworkers hate working in precincts with very little activity.  The consolidations took place all across the county;  it was not limited to certain areas.

We also wanted to eliminate some of the precincts that split neighborhoods.  Voters found it extremely confusing that their neighbors would have a different place to vote.

The creation of the new precincts was carefully reviewed by the Election Commission and the vote to accept the new precincts was unanimous.

The Election Commission heard from people who wanted early voting expanded but chose to only add the Saturday locations that were not churches.  Early voting will be open more than 2,000 hours with the current schedule.

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