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VOL. 133 | NO. 130 | Friday, June 29, 2018

Election Commission Reviews Democrats’ Complaints About Early-Voting Sites

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby County Election Commission meets Friday, June 29, to hear complaints from local Democrats about the locations and hours of early-voting sites in advance of the Aug. 2 Election Day.

Corey Strong, chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, said Wednesday the election commission should apologize for having Agricenter International as the only site for early voting the first four days of the early-voting period.

Strong and other party leaders took their complaints about that and other sites added for July early voting to the Shelby County Commission at Wednesday’s committee sessions.

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)

It is the second time in four years that Democrats have complained about early-voting sites in the same election cycle that includes county general elections as well as state and federal primary elections.

Early voting is July 13-28 at 26 locations across the county. For the first four days of the 14-day early-voting period, the Agricenter site is the only early-voting location. The other 25 sites open for early voting July 18.

Strong said the use of only one early-voting site for the first four days of voting is part of tactics that “come directly out of the Republican playbook of how do we reduce and suppress voting.”

“The Shelby County Democratic Party is not going to sit idly by and allow that to occur,” he said. “What this really shows is that our election commission, our elected officials really don’t understand who Shelby County residents are.”

Shelby County Republican Party chairman Lee Mills said the first four days of early voting “are inconsequential when you look at the number of votes.”

Mills also 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 affluent Republican voters.

“It can’t just be Poplar Corridor and the suburbs anymore,” Strong 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 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.”

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.”

County elections administrator Linda Phillips said the commission didn’t do away with any of the existing early-voting sites, only added to them. She also cited the state law that bars early voting at election commission offices, which means the usual Downtown early-voting site at 157 Poplar Ave. is no longer a site since the election commission offices moved to that building last year. That location usually opened for several days 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.

Local Democratic Party leaders complained in the summer of 2010 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.

Republican Party leaders at the time said Democrats were using the early-voting locations as a premise to push for a larger voter turnout in the county general election.

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

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