VOL. 133 | NO. 138 | Thursday, July 12, 2018
Early-Voting Plan Takes Final Turn In Court
By Bill Dries
Plans changed once again Tuesday, July 11, leading up to the Friday opening of the early-voting period in advance of the Aug. 2 Election Day.
And even more changes proposed by elections administrators nearly derailed the legal process governed by Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins.
Jenkins amended his Monday order to permit all 27 early-voting sites to open July 17 – keeping the previous plan to open five of those sites Friday when the 14-day early voting period begins Friday.
Jenkins’ earlier order would have opened all 27 early-voting sites on Monday, July 16.
The change was prompted by an affidavit from elections administrator Linda Phillips, who said the commission couldn’t open all of the sites by Monday.
“Many of the early-voting locations are churches,” Phillips said in the affidavit. “Of the five churches we have contacted this morning, so far none of them have agreed to allow us access on Saturday. Even if we deliver the equipment on Saturday we cannot setup until Monday.”
Attorney Julie Byrd Ashworth said the election commission could make the Monday opening with a “can-do attitude” and a specific court order that didn’t budge from the deadline set Monday.
Jenkins, meanwhile, noted that Phillips didn’t specifically rule out a Tuesday opening of all sites and pressed for that.
The amendment was almost scuttled when the election commission agreed to a Tuesday opening and then offered to open other sites on Friday to go with the five designated early-voting sites on the first day.
Attorneys for plaintiffs in the lawsuit over two previous early-voting plans, including the Memphis branch NAACP and Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong, questioned why the election commission could open some sites on Friday after saying a Monday opening would not work.
They also said opening more sites would undo the racial and demographic balance Jenkins included in his order by adding two sites in predominantly black and Democratic areas of Midtown and North Memphis. Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Midtown and Dave Wells Community Center in North Memphis were added to go with a site in Whitehaven, one at Shelby Farms and another in Germantown.
Andre Wharton, representing the Memphis branch NAACP, said more sites would “undermine everything” agreed to on the issue of balancing the sites that open starting Friday.
“The time has come,” he told Jenkins. “The line has been drawn.”
Jenkins made it clear that he was barring the opening of any additional sites on opening day and said he wanted to avoid any further “horse trading” on the matter.
“They are prohibited from doing any other actions for this election,” he said when asked if the election commission could act on its own. “You are under my jurisdiction for a year. If you want to change some things, we need to talk about it.”
All sides in the case were working Tuesday on a trial date to hear longer-term issues.
The two days on hearings this week centered specifically on the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction.