Local Pastors call on Shelby County Election Committee to open FedExForum as polling site

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Across the nation arenas and stadiums are being used as polling sites during the upcoming presidential election. Now local pastors in Memphis are asking for officials to do the same with the FedExForum.

On Tuesday, a group of pastors is hosting a worship protest and demonstration at the Shelby County Election Committee meeting, in hopes to convince officials in Shelby County to open the doors of the FedExForum.

“We will be engaging in worship. We’re calling it a worship protest,” Kenneth Whalum, the pastor at Olivet Baptist Church, said. “We’ll be laying prostrate before the Lord. We want to get God’s attention.”

The group of pastors also hopes to get the attention of Shelby County Election Commissioners. They want election officials to open up spacious FedEx Forum as a voting location for use during the upcoming presidential election, an arena with plenty of room for voters to social distance while casting ballots.

“The Memphis Grizzlies are on board with trying to do everything they can to heal the land of racism,” Whalum said. “And opening the forum as a voting site will go a long way to doing that we believe.”

NBA arenas across the country plan to use their facilities as polling sites. The push came after players agreed to postseason basketball with social justice initiatives put in place.

The Grizzlies volunteered up the FedEx Forum. The election administrator took them up on the offer but only as a place for poll workers to count absentee ballots, not for voting.

“The cities that have moved voting locations to large facilities like their basketball arenas have done so because they are either lacking poll workers,” Linda Phillips, the Shelby County Election Administrator, said. That’s primarily what they’re lacking is poll workers.”

Phillips said there is not a shortage of poll workers, and social distancing will not be a problem for voters. Additionally, she said what people are requesting them to do is not permitted under Tennessee law.

“It’s not permitted under Tennessee law to do what a lot of people are advocating for us to do. There are some people who wanted it to be an early voting site, but they came up with that idea too late, and we’d already passed the deadline set by Shelby County IT and ATT to install the private internet lines that would be required,” Phillips said.

But Whalum said those are all excuses. He said Phillips is the Shelby County Election Administrator and should have the authority to use the FedEx Forum as a polling site.

Whalum said he hopes this demonstration of faith makes a difference and the elected commissioners who employ Phillips override her decision.

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