After Court Victory, NAACP Monitors Memphis

Ashley Goodwin, 23, was turned away from the polls during early voting in Memphis, Tenn., three times by a poll worker who claimed her name was not on the voting roster. Goodwin said the poll worker refused to look into the computer to find her information, claimed she was not registered to vote and gave her no further direction.

“I was frustrated because I had to keep coming back and I knew my name was in the system,” said Goodwin.

Goodwin reached out to the Memphis NAACP who directed her to go to the Shelby County Election Commission. It took a phone call from an election commission staff member to the poll worker to have them check the digital registration database.

After the ordeal and because of the NAACP’s help, Goodwin wants to help more people exercise their right to vote because their future depends on it.

“You never know how the future may be,” Goodwin said. “Like for my son, I don’t want the future to be hard on him and that’s why I think it’s important to vote.”

But Memphis’ voting cycles have been riddled with missing registrations, accessible polling locations and ballot confusion.

Goodwin was among a number of people who complained about the difficulty in trying to cast their vote. Those who had incorrect voter registration applications were denied an opportunity to correct them.

As a result, on October 23, the NAACP’s Memphis Branch and the Tennessee Black Voter Project sued the Shelby County Election Commission for its refusal to allow voters who submitted timely, but allegedly deficient, voter registration applications to correct any deficiencies in those applications on or before Election Day and then vote regular ballots.

A court agreed with the Memphis branch and required the Shelby County Election Commission to allow voters to fix any issues with their registration. The court order requires that regular ballots be provided to those voters who have remedied applications deemed incomplete or missing. The commission must notify potential voters how to fix the incomplete registrations in order to vote a regular ballot on or before Election Day. The commission is also ordered to provide a daily report to both organizations on voter registrations and a list of potential voters with incomplete applications.

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson stood at the helm of the chapter’s recent new conference to mark the victory and champion the first step in a democracy: the right to vote.

“In a democracy, one’s ability to cast a ballot is the most precious thing we can offer citizens,” Johnson said. “Any time individuals who are charged with the responsibility of carrying out those protections to pursue a course of action to suppress the vote, it should give us all pause.”

Johnson was joined by Tennessee’s state conference president Gloria J. Sweet-Love who spoke of the importance of first time voters not being discouraged from the polls. The NAACP is needed now more than ever she said.

“It really says someone is concerned about their vote,” Sweet-Love said. “We are going to keep on fighting. We’re not tired yet. We’re not about to give up and we are going to keep on doing it as long as there is voter suppression in any form anywhere. The NAACP will be on the ground and fighting that.”

According to the Pew Elections Performance Index, the state of Tennessee is ranked 49th for voter turnout and 45th in voter registration. With the recent court victory, Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer said that an ad hoc committee with the election commission could be a start to improving the state’s reputation when it comes to voting.

“We have had two major lawsuits in this city in the last three months and so we want to make sure the voting process is one where people have the fidelity that when they do go out and vote … that their vote will count.”

Sawyer also noted that the county recently invested $10 million toward new voting machines because of recent concerns about security and ballot inconsistencies.

Joy Doss, 45, for example, said when she tried to cast her ballot in Memphis recently during early voting, the selection highlighted a Republican candidate instead of the Democratic candidate she had selected. When a poll worker fixed the selection, she was still wary whether her vote actually counted.

“You have to check your final ballot summary and make sure it’s everyone you intended to vote for,” Doss said. “These shenanigans have been going on for a long time.”

Doss said that the NAACP’s successful lawsuit is significant for Memphis as “one of the seats of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Johnson noted that the Black vote matters even more with the current political intolerance towards people of color and should not be a time to revert the democratic process.

“The current political landscape shows a lack of respect for African Americans and the current landscape of intolerance is something we’ve seen before,” said Johnson. “We stand here today to say, ‘Respect our vote.’ We are citizens and we are here to make democracy work.”

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