By Erica R. Williams
Early voting for runoff elections for Memphis City Council District 1 and District 7 is now underway.
Meanwhile, Shelby County Election Commission officials are scrambling to get more voters added to their roll while local advocacy groups are pushing to get more voters to the polls.
Early voting extends through November 9. Election Day is November 14. Residents who were not already registered to vote had until October 15 to sign up in time to for the runoffs.
In the District 1 race is incumbent Sherman Greer and opponent Rhonda Logan, a community activist. Incumbent, Berlin Boyd is hoping to beat out Shelby County educator Michalyn Easter-Thomas in the race for District 7.
On the heels of the municipal election, Shelby County Election Commission Administrator Linda Phillips said workers have had a busy week certifying the results from the previous election, while prepping for the upcoming one.
“The problem with runoffs is that you have to usually do two things simultaneously that are normally done at once,” Phillips said. “For instance, we had to change addresses for voters who voted at one precinct during the October 3 election and then changed their addresses shortly after.”
Phillips said there have been more than 168 address changes.
Amid the time crutch, the commission received flak from members of the Shelby County Young Democrats, who claimed precinct location information was being withheld.
“It disenfranchises voters when they do not know where or when to vote. It suppresses voter turnout,” Shelby County Young Democrats President Alexander Boulton said in an official press release Tuesday morning.
“But overall, the lack of information from the SCEC about when/where to exercise our civic duty hurts the democratic process we rely on to choose our representatives.”
Shortly after the backlash, the Election Commission listed the six early voting polling locations on its website. Phillips said she was unaware of the complaint from the Shelby County Young Dems and that she released the information once it was finalized.
“I can’t put out early voting locations until the commission finalizes it. As soon they decided, we released them. I don’t think many organizations understand how the process really goes.”
More than 95,000 people voted in the past election, but only a small fraction is expected to make it to the polls for runoffs. In 2015 only 5 percent of voters came back out to cast their ballots.
Organizers such as those from Up the Vote 901 have been registering voters leading up to the runoffs. Sijuwola Crawford, a lead organizer for the organization, acknowledged that getting people back to the polls is difficult. He said Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) could be the remedy.
“That’s why IRV is important and advantageous because people don’t have to come back out 30 days after the general election,” Crawford said. “But regardless of what I think, the majority of voters have supported it.”
Last year nearly 63 percent of Memphians reaffirmed their support for IRV, which was first approved in 2008. Despite the support, the system that would require voters to select and rank multiple choices for single-member city council district seats has not been implemented.
Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins has said that IRV does not comply with state law and that it could not be implemented just yet.
Despite having to revisit the polls for a second time, officials and organizers are urging residents to exercise their voting rights during runoffs.
“I know it’s not ideal to come out again, but I urge people to turn out to vote,” Phillips said. “Your local elected officials are much more important than who’s running for President.
The six early voting sites are:
- Shelby County Office Building (157 Poplar Ave)
- Bellevue Baptist Church (2000 Appling Rd.)
- Bellevue Frayser (3759 N. Watkins)
- Berclair Church of Christ (4536 Summer Ave)
- Dave Wells Community Center (915 Chelsea Ave)
- Raleigh United Methodist Church (3295 Powers Rd.)
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender