Shelby County Chancellor Rules In Lawsuit Over Voter Registration Issues

Local News

The Memphis NAACP and Tennessee Black Voters Project are claiming victory in what they say was voter suppression by the Shelby County Election Commission. A Shelby County chancellor has ruled the Election Commission must notify thousands of in-limbo voter applicants quicker and clearer ahead of election day.

A joint lawsuit by the Memphis NAACP and Tennessee Black Voters Project accused the Commission of intentionally not processing about 6,000 applications.

The courtroom drama likely isn’t over as the attorneys for the Shelby County Election Commission promised an emergency appeal in a decision ruled as a win for democracy by attorneys on the other side.

Chancellor Joedae Jenkins ordered the commission provide a daily update of which of those 6,000 applicants are cleared to vote and which must correct any incomplete information. Those voters with any issues must also be notified immediately.

Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips was the only person to testify. Phillips said extra staff was brought in to handle an abnormally high 40,000 voter registration applications in a month, and about 13,000 on registration day. She argued the process was working to notify applicants in time.

Election leaders said voters with any lingering registration questions could still vote with a provisional ballot.

But attorneys on the other side said this ruling ensures issues are cleared up quicker, so more can vote with a normal ballot either in early voting or on election day.

“At the end of the day I think the parties have the same interest in mind, which is to make sure that everyone who is eligible is able to participate. Because we can all agree that our democracy is strongest when that’s the case, when everyone who is eligible can participate,” says Bo Dul, attorney for the Tennessee Black Voters Project.

“This is non-partisan issue, quite frankly, whether it be Democrat, Republican, independent, when people register to vote, we should applaud that, we should encourage that, and we should not do things to frustrate the process,” says Alex Wharton, Attorney representing Memphis NAACP.

“Anytime this close to an election you begin to make changes in the existing procedure, it is a burden on the process that creates the possibility, even the probability of increased difficulties in making sure the election runs smoothly,” says John Ryder, attorney for the Shelby County Election Commission. “There is no irreparable harm here, because everyone who is entitled to vote gets to vote, you may vote on the machine or you may vote on the provisional ballot.”

If an appeal in this ruling is heard, we are told it wouldn’t happen until Monday at the earliest.

Early voting ends next Thursday. Election day is Tuesday, November 6th.

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