VOL. 11 | NO. 27 | Saturday, July 7, 2018
The Memphis News Editorial
Editorial: Early Voting Review Should Be Bipartisan
From the outset of early voting in Shelby County 24 years ago, there was never an expectation that going to the polls for two weeks before Election Day would increase the overall turnout.
If that happened it was considered to be an added benefit. But the goal of early voting was convenience and maybe a step or two down the road to a time when we would vote at fewer polling places once this became a habit.
It has become a habit for some voters. Some people only vote early, just as some wait until Election Day.
We pay so much attention to habits in our politics that when something changes that requires citizens to adjust their routine it becomes a cause for concern.
So when the Shelby County Election Commission decided to add five new early-voting sites in advance of the Aug. 2 Election Day and make Agricenter International the only site open for the first four days of the voting period, the reaction was swift.
Local Democratic Party leaders complained that Agricenter’s opening first amounts to four days when more Republicans will vote and fewer Democrats will vote. Different party leaders made the same allegation four years ago about the Downtown site being open before the satellite sites kicked in.
Republicans point out Agricenter is in a state House district represented by a Democrat with a split in primary voters that is almost even between Democrats and Republicans.
Local Republican Party chairman Lee Mills said the first four days of early voting are “inconsequential.”
Local Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong disagreed, saying the Agricenter's opening first is an attempt to suppress the Democratic vote in a blue county. He doubled down the next day calling for Democrats to turn out against “the demonstrably racist, homophobic, unethical and unqualified Republican nominees.”
Our politics reflect the divided nation we are a part of. Within Shelby County lies the biggest base of Democratic voters in the state and the biggest base of Republican voters in the state.
It’s always been a potentially volatile coexistence stabilized by the boundaries between city and suburbs – although both sides are increasingly challenging those borders. Sometimes it is an appeal for crossover votes. Other times it is a campaign aimed at producing an upset.
State and federal primaries are on the August ballot as well as the county general election. Most, but not all, are races between the Democratic and Republican nominees from the May primaries.
The time to make these changes probably wasn’t between two elections that are linked.
No time will ever be perfect, but the time has come for a comprehensive review of how and where we conduct early voting in Shelby County with an open map of the county that puts these places where the voters are and accessible to all of the voters.
That includes places where Republicans and Democrats live side by side and where those with no party allegiance can make their choice as well.