Towns to investigate Memphis poll worker incident

    Early voter Lanna Williams, wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, waits in line to vote with others at the Howard School in Nashville. Apparel with slogans not identified with a particular candidate or political party are permitted while voting. (Photo: John Partipilo)
    Early voter Lanna Williams, wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, waits in line to vote with others at the Howard School in Nashville. Apparel with slogans not identified with a particular candidate or political party are permitted while voting. (Photo: John Partipilo)

    Rep. Joe Towns Jr., D-Memphis, will investigate whether an incident in which “Black Lives Matter” voters were turned away from the polls was not an isolated incident.

    Friday a poll worker was fired after turning away voters who wore t-shirts linked to the recent protests. The fired worker thought the  slogans were tied to the Democratic Party. 

    In Tennessee, voters are not allowed to wear items affiliated with a political party or candidate, but the law does not prohibit statements such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe.” 

    Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
    Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

    “This should never have happened,” said Towns, who represents District 84.

    “Everyone knows what the law provides and everyone knows what the constitution provides,” he said. 

    Towns will be looking into whether this was an isolated incident or part of an organized effort to suppress votes. 

    “In these times, we have to investigate everything,” he said. 

    The election commission is taking this seriously, said Theryn Bond, an activist and former city council candidate. She is concerned that poll judges at the polling location were not there to prevent the incident. 

    “Why were those voters allowed to exit the polling location without being told that particular poll worker who suggested they could not vote was in fact mistaken,” said Bond. 

    “it’s really important that voters not have any additional barriers than those that already exist,” she said. 

    Bond added that she’s curious about whether the election commission will prohibit the poll workers from working at other locations.