Shelby County Commission. (Photo: Shelby County Government)
The Shelby County Commission deferred a motion to increase the county Election Commission’s budget despite an upcoming deadline to alert voters of precinct changes.
Commissioner Tami Sawyer referred to recent controversial changes to voting in Memphis.
Republican-controlled committees approved the state’s legislative and congressional maps despite testimony that Black voters were being disenfranchised in key cities, including Nashville and Memphis.
In Memphis, the Shelby County Election Commission eliminated more than 30 voting precincts ahead of the upcoming May primary and haven’t released information on where the remaining voting precincts will be located.
Sawyer said the eliminations were an effort to disenfranchise Memphis voters, a majority-minority county, and called for the motion to be voted down or deferred.
“They’ve been threatening to sue us and now they want us to compromise and give them almost half a million dollars so they can notify Black people that they’re cutting our precincts?” said Sawyer. “Martin Luther King (Jr.) is rolling in his grave.”
Members of the election commission were at a meeting and could not attend the county commission meeting. A spokesperson answered commissioners’ budget questions, explaining that the $359,600 price tag was due to paper shortages, which left the election commission at the mercy of vendors.
More than 280,000 voters need to be informed of their new voting precincts and voter identification numbers before the May primary, eight weeks away.
Precincts have also changed from numbers to letters. Memphis is labeled as “I,” which Sawyer viewed as arbitrary and confusing.
“I would like to see the concept of this card before it goes out and commissioners having some say if you want these dollars. I want to know what you’re saying to our voters,” said Commissioner Reginald Milton.
The item was deferred until March 9.
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