Absentee voting leaves Memphis city council, community divided during pandemic

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Elections in Shelby County will have a different look from here on out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elections Administrator Linda Phillips says the commission is already working on making some changes.

“We have purchased disposable styluses with machines so a voter is never going to touch a machine,” Phillips said.

She says they are also purchasing shields to separate poll workers and markers to keep voters six feet apart while in line.

Some worry that voting places are still prime places for COVID-19 to spread.

Memphis City Council Member Jeff Warren presented a resolution during Tuesday’s online executive committee meeting calling for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee to authorize absentee voting by demand in the 2020 elections.

The resolution also calls on the governor to adopt hand-marked papers ballots as opposed to ballots on computer.

“What this is about is it about allowing people to vote and vote safely and making people feeling like I can go vote and let me do it the way I feel comfortable,” Warren said.

Some city council members questioned whether paper ballots are safer as voters would still be in lines close together and paper ballot still have to be handled by hand.

There was also the issue that some say paper ballots are more susceptible to voter fraud.

Others questioned if the council was wasting time trying to get the governor to change his mind something on which has already stated his opinion.

“This Memphis City Council has absolutely no purview. This is a resolution requesting the governor and it is likely to go in the governor’s filing cabinet right when he gets it,” Councilman Chase Carlisle said.

“As elected officials, we need to do everything possible to make sure every individual has the opportunity to vote,” Councilwoman Cheyenne Johnson said. “… If that means going with paper ballots that’s what we need to do.”

In the end, Warren’s resolution passed through City Council’s executive committee.

Linda Phillips says election commission workers will follow whatever is ultimately decided.

The resolution still has to go before the full City Council.

The election administrator says if they are inundated with paper ballots, it could take two to three days to get election results as opposed to hours.

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