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VOL. 133 | NO. 128 | Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Democrats Cry Foul on Early Voting Sites

By Bill Dries

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Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong says early voting sites and hours including five new sites and four days of early voting only at Agricenter are a Republican effort to suppress the Democratic vote. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

The chairman of the Shelby County Democratic party says the Shelby County Election Commission should apologize for having Agricenter International as the only site for early voting the first four days of the early voting period in advance of the Aug. 2 election day.

Corey Strong and other party leaders took their complaint about that and some of the five new early voting sites added for July early voting to the Shelby County Commission at Wednesday, June 27, committee sessions.

Early voting in the county general election and state and federal primary races on the August ballot is July 13-28 at 26 early voting sites across the county. The first four days of the 14-day early voting period the Agricenter site is the only early voting location open. The other 25 sites open for early voting July 18.

“It is clear. These are textbook tactics to ensure that this election is taken away from Democratic voters,” Strong said before the committee session Wednesday. “The Shelby County Democratic Party is not going to sit idly by and allow that to occur. What this really shows is that our election commission, our elected officials really don’t understand who Shelby County residents are.”

Elections administrator Linda Phillips said the commission didn’t do away with any of the existing early voting sites, only added to them.

The election commission will meet in special session Friday at 4 p.m. to discuss the issue.

Phillips also cited the state law that bars early voting at election commission offices, which means the usual Downtown early voting site at 157 Poplar Avenue is no longer a site since the election commission offices moved to that building last year. The 157 Poplar location usually opened for several days by itself ahead of the other early voting locations.

The Downtown site is now Calvary Episcopal Church, which has different hours than other sites because of church activities.

Strong says the days and hours for all of the sites should be consistent.

Four years ago, local Democratic party leaders complained that the 157 Poplar site wasn’t accessible to Democratic voters in the county general election and called for other early voting sites to be open from the first day of the early voting period.

The election commission is a five-member body with three Republicans and two Democrats based on Republican majorities in the Tennessee Legislature.

Shelby County Republican Party chairman Lee Mills said most of the early voting sites are in heavily Democratic areas.

“They continue to suppress the Republican vote is what they are trying to do,” he countered. ”For years the election commission under Democratic control put early voting locations in heavily Democratic areas.”

Strong said Agricenter isn’t accessible to voters who rely on public transportation and is a site used mainly by Republican affluent voters.

“It can’t just be Poplar Corridor and the suburbs anymore,” he said. “This county does not move forward unless those other parts of this county – all of those citizens, the ones that look like me – are part of the solution.”

He called on the election commission to apologize for the placement and hours of the early voting sites and for changes to be made to accommodate all voters.

“That they have a place where they can get to on their lunch hour and get to vote. Agricenter ain’t it,” he said.

Mills said Agricenter is at the geographic center of Shelby County.

“That is District 96,” he said referring to the state House district represented by Democrat Dwayne Thompson. “It’s also one of the more centrally located areas. And it’s one of the few districts that has 50 percent Republican voters and 50 percent Democratic voters. So the argument is completely false. The narrative is completely wrong. And they are just screaming it because that’s what they do.”

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