Registered voters interested in casting their ballots as soon as possible for the May 6th primary elections can call 901-401-0599 to get a free ride to the Shelby County Election Commission's downtown office at 157 Poplar, the only site for early voting until satellite locations become available citywide on April 25th.
Sponsored by the Diedre Malone for Shelby County Mayor campaign, the shuttle van was announced at a press conference held Monday by retiring County Commissioner Henri Brooks, who blasted the Shelby County Election Commission's setup for early voting.
Supported by Malone in her complaint, Brooks, who is running against Ken Moody to become the Democratic Party nominee for Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk, told The New Tri State Defender following the press conference that, "This a clear cut, manipulative game of voter suppression. They couldn't have chosen a worse location."
Early voting kicked off April 16th. After a two-week run only at the downtown location, early voting will be open at satellite sites for one week. That setup, said Brooks, "is clearly aimed at cutting down on access for African-American voters, especially senior citizens. They like to get in and get out early before the crowds. There's very little free parking in that area period, and if you have to pay to park, which you will, that equates to a poll tax.
"This is another example of voter suppression by Republicans working behind the scenes," said Brooks. "Ray Charles could see what they're doing."
Brooks' complaint was spurred by calls from several senior citizens.
"I got a voicemail from my cousin, who had gone to Bellevue Baptist Church to vote and was totally upset. 'I know they're not stupid enough to just keep it downtown,' she told me. I also went to several churches and many people did not know downtown was the only place you could vote early."
Via email, the media spokesperson for Congressman Steve Cohen, said, "The congressman wishes that the election commission had opened more early voting locations."
Election Commission Chairman Robert Meyers said it's all a bunch of noise over nothing.
"I think the criticism is unfounded," said Meyers. "We are complying with state law. We will have 21 sites up for six days when the satellite locations come on board. That will allow us to be able to accommodate 120,000 voters, if the need is necessary."
Tennessee's early voting stipulation requires that at least one voting location be available 20 days before the election, to be closed 5 days before the final day of voting.
"We are only expecting 250 voters per day per site," said Meyers. "Looking back four years ago, we had right at 30,000 voters in the last election cycle. We only expect about 10 percent of the voters to vote in this primary election."
The commission's spokesperson, Suzanne Thompson, said that at $2,000 per day, costs prohibit all locations from being open during the early voting period and that the commission is going above the letter of the law by making the satellite locations available.
"Nobody is trying to keep anyone from voting," she told the media.
Meanwhile, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has not yet said whether the Justice Department will honor requests to assign federal monitors for the upcoming elections. The Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., who also is seeking the Democratic Party nomination in the race for Shelby County Mayor, has made a formal request for such intervention. Cohen also is pressing the case.