Among those closely watching the Federal and State Primary and Shelby County General Election on Election Day (Aug. 7) will be a crew of federal monitors dispatched by the U.S. Department of Justice.
That’s just the result sought by a local group that has been pushing for such intervention for some time. The group includes State Rep. G. A. Hardaway, former Shelby County Commissioner Julian Bolton, former Shelby County Commission Chair and current Democratic nominee for Shelby County Mayor Deidre Malone, former Shelby County Democratic Chair and current candidate for Shelby County Commission Van Turner, former Memphis City Councilwoman TaJuan Stout Mitchell, Shelby County Democratic Party Chair Bryan Carson and former Shelby County Democratic Party Chair David Cocke.
“As a result of this action by the President of the United States, the Department of Justice and the Shelby County Commission, we feel the voters will have more comfort in going to the polls to vote on Thursday, August 7th,” read a release from the group issued shortly after word of the federal monitors began to circulate. “We need every single person to get out to vote and to rest assured that intimidation at the polls will not be tolerated.”
News of the federal monitors came on the same day that some members of the group visited the Federal Building Downtown to make their request anew to Ed Stanton Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
The Shelby County Election Commission welcomed the presence of the monitors.
“I was pleased to learn that the DOJ would come down and monitor the election. I believe this further supports our continued commitment to transparency,” said Robert Myers, Election Commission chairman, in a released statement.
Myers and Richard Holden, administrator of elections, made a request for representatives from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division during a telephone call at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, according to the release. Myers also addressed the matter at the University Club, where he addressed the Memphis Rotary Club.
“I wanted to call the U.S. Attorney and express some concerns that I had and also let him know that we didn’t really have any problems with monitors (and) find out what his plans are in that regard,” Myers said in remarks to media following his Rotary Club address. “As I continually say, we are transparent. We want to be transparent, and if that’s what people believe that they need to see in order to have faith in our transparency, then I’m happy to comply with that. We just don’t have anything to hide.”
On Monday, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, adopted a resolution requesting oversight intervention by the Department of Justice. None of the Republican members of the Commission voted for the resolution, all present choosing to abstain.
At the Commission meeting, Rep. Hardaway said, “We’ve all been alarmed at the rate of infractions, incidents even in registration in preparing for the election process and during the actual early voting cycle that we have gone through. There have been documented instances where we’ve had trained election officials to give wrong information, to give guidance to voters that in essence disenfranchises them.”
He said there also had been issues with machines and processes not in place to insure the integrity of the vote.
Bolton pulled together much of the data that Hardaway and the local group relied upon in pushing for the Commission to ask for federal intervention.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe and I hadn’t collected enough evidence based upon my 24 years involvement right here with the Election Commission, my seven campaigns that I ran and my involvement in dozens of other campaigns,” said Bolton.
“I would not be here if I were not convinced that we have serious problems with the administration of our elections here in Shelby County, amounting to constitutional violations.”
Bolton earlier had brought the County Commission information from a specific incident involving the County Commission race that pitted Martavius Jones and Reginald Milton. Milton was declared the winner, a result challenged by Jones. After not hearing back from the County Commission, Bolton said he was back four days out from the Election because “the infractions continue.”
“We are worried about the integrity of this election,” said Bolton. “We are worried because machines went down in Whitehaven on Friday, a busy voting period, causing people not to be able to vote and walk away from the polls. We are worried because people who come to the polls with ballots in their hands are being told that you can’t take that ballot into the polling place. With the (official) ballot being 14 pages long, many people cannot remember all those names. They need that aid.”
Bolton asked for the commissioners “to get hands on in this election.”
Wednesday’s release from Bolton and the group expressing concern about the election said the collective action by the Obama Administration, Stanton and the County Commission affected “all the lives of those who live and work in Shelby County and the future of this great metro. We truly appreciate their willingness to help uphold the integrity of each and every vote and voter.”
Also Tuesday, Congressman Steven Cohen’s office released a letter to Holder dated Aug. 4th. In the letter, Cohen made reference to previous instances in which he had written to the DOJ about “the inability of the Shelby County Election Commission to properly administer elections.” Pointing out that he had asked for federal oversight in those instances, Cohen wrote that, “I must renew this request as the Commission continues to fail in its duty to ensure that voters have an opportunity to have their voices heard.”
One voter, Cohen said, reported being told by an election official at a polling site that he could only vote in the Republican primary even though election rules permit a voter to choose which primary in which to vote. Similar stories have become all too familiar and warrant the DOJ monitoring, he wrote.
Asked about the concerns being expressed about the Election Commission, Meyers said, “We do take them into account. At the same time, in all of 2013, we ran more than a dozen elections. We have no systemic or serious problems. It seems to me that we’ve addressed past problems that we’ve had, and we’re trying very hard to move forward; some people just won’t let us.
“ They keep wanting to focus back with past misdeeds, but we’re through that, and we’re ready for this election,” said Myers. “It doesn’t matter to us whether you’re Democrat, Republican, or Independent, come out, cast your ballot. We’ll correctly account for it, correctly tabulate it, and correctly report it.”
Registered voters who have not cast their ballots should come out and do so, said Myers.
“We’re prepared for you. We want you to come out and vote. There’s no reason for you not to come out and vote and exercise your civic responsibility.”