SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — With the Shelby County primaries just weeks away, the NAACP Memphis Branch, Up the Vote 901, and the Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis filed a lawsuit against the Shelby County Election Commission.
The lawsuit claims the commission is disenfranchising voters during early voting.
Right now, the Election Commission is only opening one polling place in downtown Memphis on the first day of early voting. After that only five more will open three days later.
The lawsuit is sixteen pages long. According to Earle Fisher, founder of Up The Vote 901, the current schedule is unfair to all voters, especially minorities.
“There's no site in Whitehaven during that time,” said Fisher. “There's no site in Hickory Hill. There’s no precinct open in Westwood. You're talking about some of the places where people are most prone to participate in early voting not even being open.”
The groups want all - or more - polling places open for the first three days of early voting. They are also asking for the election commission to quote “follow the rules the Election Commission set in place previously in February.”
“I think more can be done,” said NAACP President Van Turner. “Things can be done in a better way. It should not have taken this lawsuit to force this issue.”
ABC24 also spoke with Election Commission Chairman Mark Luttrell Friday afternoon. According to Luttrell, the procedures were established in February, but “this is not new.”
According to Luttrell, when early voting starts near holidays, like Easter, Good Friday, and Passover, the election commission is “mindful of that.” Several churches are polling places.
In the 2018 primaries, Easter Sunday was April 1st. The first day of early voting started more than a week later, and every precinct was open early.
But in 2014, early voting started days before Easter, with only one location until five days later.
The lawsuit mentions that clergy members are willing to open their churches for early voting. It also alleges clergy was not contacted about this before the decision was made.