Opinion » The Rant

Shelby County Election Commission’s pseudo-solution to early voting sites.

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You may think the uproar about early voting for the August Shelby County General election was just another example of Democrats saying the sky is falling.

You'd be wrong.

There are a lot of good reasons to be suspicious of the Election Commission. This is the same bunch, sans election administrator, who "helped" thousands of voters get the wrong ballots in 2012.

So let's go through the problems the Election Commission created for itself this time around.

Agricenter
  • Agricenter

By state law, early voting in the August election begins July 13th. One thing state law doesn't mandate is how many locations are open and for how many days. Higher turnout elections, like November, typically have all early voting locations open throughout the early voting term. Seventy percent of participating voters in November 2016 voted early.

The August 2016 primary election wasn't a high turnout affair. Less than 15 percent of all registered voters turned out in that election. Still, all early voting locations were open for all but two days.

The May 2018 County Primary had even smaller turnout. Just 13.76 percent of voters participated. This May, all early voting locations were open for the entire early voting period.

Finally, for an apples-to-apples comparison, the August 2014 election saw about 26 percent turnout. In that election, all early voting locations were open for all but two days.

In fact, just about every non-November election in memory has had limited early voting on the first two days of the early voting term. Then all early voting sites open the following Monday, through the end of early voting.

There should be a good deal of suspicion when the Election Commission arbitrarily cuts an additional two days of county-wide early voting from the schedule without cause or notice.

The second complaint centered around the Agricenter. It was the only site originally set to be open the first four days of voting.

The Agricenter is not a bad location for a large segment of the population. But it's a less than ideal location for the majority of the county's residents. As a sole voting location, the Agricenter would have kept tens of thousands of voters an hours-long bus commute away from the only place to vote for the first four days. The site may be in the most racially diverse precinct in East Memphis, but it is surrounded by some of the most white precincts in the entire county. There are only two majority-minority precincts within a five-mile radius.

Democrats wanted all locations to be open throughout the entire early voting term, just as they were in the super-low-turnout May election. But that's not what happened.

The "compromise" means that one location, Abundant Grace Fellowship on Shelby Drive, will be open in an area that has a majority-minority population. Another, New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on Poplar Pike in Germantown,will be open in an area that seems to have a good deal of crossover. Yet another, the Election Commission's own Nixon Drive office at Shelby Farms, added by Administrator Linda Phillips, almost casually at the close of Friday's public meeting on the subject (for reasons of state law, she said), will be open just around the corner from the Agricenter.  

There's still a huge swath of Shelby County that's nowhere near any of the three locations, including some areas that have the fewest public transportation options.

Some of the highest-turnout GOP precincts in the county now have two early voting locations right around the corner from each other.

It appears the compromise approved by the Shelby County Election Commission may have actually done more harm for Democrats, than good.

Both Downtown and Midtown have viable early voting locations that serve large populations of minority voters and are close to public transportation options. For whatever reason, no core-city locations were on the table.

Adding a Downtown location at a County building, which is the norm, would be a good alternative as well. But that also wasn't on the table. 

Choosing not to engage stakeholders or to justify their actions is a continuing self-inflicted wound for this Election Commission. They, like so many other small boards in Shelby County, operate like a walled fiefdom, suspicious of anyone arriving at the gate. That makes them a prime candidate for skepticism.

Steve Ross is a husband, father, and occasional blogger. at vibinc.com.

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