Three sites to open for early voting in Shelby County

James Franklin votes in the Shelby County primary election Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The election commission in Tennessee’s largest county has agreed to open three voting locations for the first four days of early voting.

But the commission’s action on Friday angered a mostly Democratic crowd that at times shouted down commissioners as they called for all voting sites to open at the same time.

The Commercial Appeal reported that the commission voted unanimously to open three voting sites on July 13.

One site is in an area where Republicans turn out in higher numbers, and another is where Democratic turnout is larger. The other site is the commission’s operations center.

The commission had voted Tuesday to make Agricenter International the sole site in those four days, causing an uproar among Shelby County Democrats.

Democratic Commissioner Normal Lester proposed the compromise after Election Commission staff said it would be “virtually impossible” to open all sites, all the time.

“It’s not just the money, in this case, it’s to provide the necessary resources to keep all sites open for that period of time,” Lester said.

Corey Strong, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, panned the idea that the Election Commission staff couldn’t open all the sites for the entire time, saying the Election Commission “knew what they were doing” when they decided to return to the practice of limiting voting sites to a small number for the first four days of early voting.

“It is clear,” he said after the vote. “The fix is in.”

The commission also opted to continue with a plan to add five new early voting locations on July 18. Democrats had protested that three of those sites were in areas with higher Republican turnout.

The majority party of the five-member election commission is determined by the majority party of the Tennessee General Assembly, according to the commission’s website. Republicans currently comprise the majority of the General Assembly.

More than 65 people attended the election commission’s special meeting, and 26 people addressed the commission during the public comments period. The turnout illustrates how the issue has become a lightning rod for Democrats.

The Election Commission shouldn’t have made the changes so close to the Aug. 2 election, when Shelby County will elect its next mayor, sheriff and many other positions, and where the parties will select their nominees for the governor’s and U.S. Senate races, said Dave Cambron, president of the Germantown Democratic Club.

“At the end of the day, to the casual observer, it looks like you had your finger on the scale,” he told the commissioners.

During the public comments, Anne Reef of Memphis — but originally from South Africa — said the Election Commission’s actions reminded her of the apartheid.

Early voting runs from July 13 through July 28.