Sec of State Raises False Alarm; Republicans Playing Dirty Tricks

Members of NAACP Memphis Branch and the Tennessee Black Voter Project announce their court victory over the Shelby County Election Commission last month. Voters the commission disqualified were able to correct registration forms and vote regular ballots on Election Day.

NASHVILLE,TN – Sec of State Tre Hargett issued an election alert Oct 4 about anonymous groups filling out voter registration forms and sending them to people who were dead or calling live people to tell them they weren’t registered. State Election Administrator Mark Goins says he doesn’t know who’s doing it.

“That’s a red herring,” said Mary Mancini, Chairman of TN Democratic Party.

Democrats say Hargett raised a false flag to hide what is really going on. “They are generating that stuff to make it seem they are justified in doing what they are doing,” said Representative Joe Towns Jr. (D, Memphis).

Towns said 50,000 people registered to vote in Shelby County before the Oct 9 deadline but election officials said they couldn’t process all of them and get deficient forms corrected in time for the election.

The Tennessee Black Voter Project (TBVP) and the NAACP-Memphis branch filed suit against the Memphis Election Commission for rejecting voter applications because of failure to select Mr, Mrs, or Ms on the form.

On October 26, Shelby County Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins ruled in their favor. She ordered the Shelby County Election Commission to notify voters about registration issues in time to vote on November 6th.

In Georgia, the Associate Press reported election officials blocked 53,000 voter registrations because of signature mismatches. Voter activists say such so-called exact match requirements are used in red states like Georgia and North Carolina to disenfranchise black voters.

Federal District Judge Leigh Martin May issued a temporary restraining order October 24 that allows Georgia voters to contest the state’s initial determination and confirm their identity in time to vote in the mid-term election.

But 4,500 vote-by-mail applications have gone missing in DeKalb County, Ga where a majority of the citizens are black. On October 15, officials in Jefferson County, Ga told some 40 black seniors to get off theBlack Voters Matterbus. BVM is a non-profit and does not engage in political campaigning for any candidate. They encourage African-Americans to vote and giving people rides to the polls is not illegal. (see NAACP Focuses on November Election, September 27, 2018)

“They drill down and figure out ways to disqualify you. That is what they are trying to do and that is the tactic of a guilty man who thinks they are losing,” Towns said.

An election official blamed the TBVP for the problems voters were having in Memphis. Administrator Linda Phillips said the TBVP dumped thousands of voter registration applications on the commission at the last minute in order to create chaos.

According to Mancini, on the first day of early voting electronic poll books malfunctioned and there was no back-up in place to look up registration information. So some polling places were shut down and long lines persisted for days at open polling places.

Mancini said the Democrats have received hundreds of complaints on their Voter Protection Hotline. They range from a poll worker who handed out ballots with the name “Bill Lee” already circled to faulty voting machines that tallied votes for the wrong candidate when a voter made their choice. The same thing is happening in Georgia.

The Georgia NAACP filed a complaint last week with state election officials alleging that some voting machines mistakenly showed votes cast for Stacey Abrams registering for Brian Kemp. Kemp is the Georgia Sec of State and runs Georgia’s elections. He is in a hotly contested race for Governor with voting-rights advocate Stacey Abrams.

These problems seem to be coming from the same old Jim Crow election playbook used in the 1950s and 1960s but updated to exploit advances in election technology.

“The chances are the Democrats are going to do very well in this mid-term election, so the other side is using every tactic imaginable to obstruct and keep people from being able to vote,” Towns said.

He said Republicans have used their control of state legislatures to purge voter rolls and make voting more difficult. Their aim is to disqualify or frustrate as many minority voters as they can so they stay home on election day. Towns said some of the 2018 races are going to be very close.

“If they can shave off one or two percent of the vote, they can swing an election. So what I see is any little tactic and all of them combined will have a negative impact on our ability to vote.”

Journalist Ari Berman says that 24 states have created photo ID laws since 2010 and many began purging voters from the polls if they didn’t vote for a while. In Tennessee there is a photo ID law and you are tossed off the rolls if you miss two general elections.

The Republicans are erecting barriers to restrict voter participation everywhere but especially in the South. That’s because a 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County v Holder, ended federal oversight of election rules in states with histories of racial discrimination. The Supremes decided states could make changes to elections without getting federal approval. As a result, there’s a lot of new Jim Crow going on when it comes to voting. Shelby County is one of those places.

There are efforts going on to expand the vote, however.  A Florida ballot initiative would restore the vote to 1.6 million ex-felons who have served their time but cannot vote.

New voter registrations are up in Tennessee. There is a lot at stake and voters in Davidson County are on pace to equal or exceed the number of votes cast in the Presidential Election of 2016.

“The 2018 election could go in two different ways,” Berman says. “It could be tainted by voter suppression, or it could be remembered as an election in which voting rights were expanded for millions of people.”

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