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VOL. 133 | NO. 134 | Friday, July 6, 2018

Democrats, NAACP Go To Court Over Early Voting Sites, Hours

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby County Democratic Party and other plaintiffs are taking the Shelby County Election Commissoin to court over early voting locations and hours that open in a week. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig) 

The Shelby County Democratic Party and several other organizations including the Memphis Branch NAACP have filed two lawsuits against the Shelby County Election Commission in Shelby County Chancery Court over early voting locations and hours in advance of the Aug. 2 election day.

Early voting in the county general and state and federal primary elections begins July 13 at 27 locations over the 14-day voting period that runs through July 28.

But only three of the 27 locations will be open for the first four days of the voting period. And that is the central issue in the lawsuit which claims limiting the early vote to those sites is an attempt to suppress the Democratic vote in Shelby County.

The election commission also added five new sites to the early voting slate from the normal 21 sites. Democrats claim three of those sites are in predominantly Republican areas.

The lawsuits seek an expedited hearing. If the court agrees with the plaintiffs’ claim of voter suppression, the lawsuits ask the courts to order the election commission to come up with a new early voting schedule by the time early voting opens in a week.

The three sites that open July 13 are Abundant Grace Fellowship Church in Whitehaven, New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Germantown and Election Commission offices at 980 Nixon Drive in Shelby Farms.

The election commission voted to makes those the three lead early voting sites last week after Democratic leaders claimed the previous schedule of opening only Agricenter International for the first four days was unacceptable.

Democratic election commissioners picked Abundant Grace as a site in a predominantly Democratic area and Republican election commissioners picked New Bethel as a site in a predominantly Republican area. The election commission site is required by state law.

Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong said earlier this week the lawsuit remained an option but also began organizing an effort to turnout Democrats at not only the Whitehaven site but also the Germantown site when early voting opens in a week.

Strong said Friday after the filing of the lawsuits that his preference would be to go with the 21 early voting sites used in the early voting period prior to the May county primary election day and have those voting sites all open from the first day to the last day of the July early voting period. 

Strong is a plaintiffs in a Chancery Court lawsuit that claims the election commission violated the state open meetings law in coming up with the five new sites added for July early voting. It asks the court to bar the election commission from meeting in secret in the future and acting on anything done in secret meetings previously.

Shelby County Republican Party chairman Lee Mills has said the first four days of early voting are “inconsequential” in overall voter turnout. Mills says Democrats are using the change in sites and hours to boost Democratic turnout.

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