MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Three different groups have filed a lawsuit in Shelby County to get the election commission to open more voting sites.
For the first few days of early voting, April 13, 14 and 16, Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church and several other churches will not be open for early voting. However, you can early vote only at the Downtown Election Commission.
Jason Lawrence Turner of Black Clergy Collaboration of Memphis said voting should be made convenient to where people could vote during the normal course of their day.
“It’s not uncommon during lunch hours for people just pull right up on our lot, hop out, go in and vote and go about their lunch hour and go back to work,” Turner said.
The Election Commission says it is about savings and consolidating, and closing some poll sites will make things more efficient.
“At the Election Commission where you first have to find parking, oftentimes pay for parking, and so it would really make it logistically more possible for people to vote during the normal course of their day when you have sites available across the country,” Turner said.
Now the local NAACP, UP the Vote 901, and the Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis are turning to the courts.
“We have to make it known that, you know, voting is a precious right,” Van Turn of the NAACP said. “And so we have to do all that we can to defend that right to vote and to make sure that there’s open access to the ballot.”
The lawsuit says the Election Commission limited the first days of early voting and when it added more sites on the fourth day, it was in areas that alienated minorities.
“There is no voting site for early voting the first several days in Whitehaven, even though Abundant Grace is the largest voting location for African Americans in the county,” Pastor Earl Fisher of UP the Vote 901 said. “There’s no location in Westwood, there’s no location in Hickory Hill.”
We heard for Election Commission Administrator Linda Phillips Monday. The commission is teaming up with the Shelby County Voter Alliance for an Open House Thursday, April 7 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. That will be a chance for you to visit your new or existing polling place and get familiarized before election day.
We are told election officials said they talked to churches before making the polling changes and found many concerned about being open for early voting since those first few days fell around Easter.
Fisher said he nor other pastors have had any contact with the Election Commission.
“I’ve not received a call form anyone from the Election Commission,” he said. “I’ve talked to a couple other pastors, and they didn’t receive any contact. Yet we were used as one of the reasons why they restricted voting.”
He also said his church, like many others, hold events on the Saturday before Easter and would welcome early voters. Those suing now hope the court will void the changes and open more early voting sites.
“So what we believe is that every early voting site should be open from the first day of early voting to the last, similar to how it has been in the past couple of elections,” Fisher said. “You think that they would, they be in the election commission would want to work with us in order to make sure that there’s as much free and open access to the ballot as possible.”
Those filing suit are waiting to see which judge will hear the case.