News Press Release

NAACP Sues Shelby County Over Allegedly Defective Voter Registration Applications

October 24, 2018

Tennessee County Should Allow Voters to Fix Applications and Vote Regular Ballots on Election Day

BALTIMORE (October 24, 2018) The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), America’s foremost civil rights organization, announced today that its Memphis Branch filed suit yesterday against the Shelby County (TN) 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.  Co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Tennessee Black Voter Project and individual plaintiffs who were harmed by the defendants’ actions.

“It doesn’t matter when or how voter suppression happens, the NAACP remains steadfast in its commitment to challenge it,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson. “The integrity of our democracy rests on our ability to protect the vote in Tennessee and other states around the nation where forces seek impinge on our constitutional right to vote.”

Under Tennessee law, anyone filing a timely voter registration application must be notified whether the application was accepted or rejected.  If the application is rejected, the voter must be allowed an opportunity to cure the alleged deficiency on or before Election Day and then cast a regular ballot.  The Shelby County Elections Commission rejected a large percentage of voter registration applications submitted by the Tennessee Black Voter Project following a massive voter registration campaign in African-American communities.  While grudgingly recognizing its obligation to allow voters whose applications were rejected an opportunity to cure the alleged deficiencies at early voting locations and then cast a regular ballot in early voting, the Elections Commission has thus far refused to commit to follow the same procedure on Election Day.  Its plan to require such persons to vote provisional ballots not only violates the express terms of the governing statute, but also threatens to disenfranchise thousands of African-American voters whose registration applications were timely submitted but rejected at alarmingly high rates.

The NAACP’s request for curing at the polling station on Election Day is precisely what the County is doing now for early voters, after strong prodding from the plaintiffs. In addition to a curing opportunity and the voting of regular ballots on Election Day, plaintiffs are asking that the Elections Commission provide the legally required notice to everyone who submitted a timely voter registration application, and further, that the Elections Commission provide the plaintiffs with a list of all persons whose timely applications were rejected.

“It’s a simple, we want Shelby County to allow eligible persons who are those seeking to vote to be able to do so,” said NAACP General Counsel Bradford M. Berry. “Tennessee’s laws clearly require notice and an opportunity to cure and vote a regular ballot on Election Day, not the ‘easy out’ of a provisional ballot that might never be counted.”  Recently, the NAACP Georgia State Conference joined a suit seeking to protect the right to vote of 53,000 individuals whose voter registration applications remained unprocessed by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is a candidate for Governor and who has expressed concern about the “Get Out The Vote” operation of his African-American female opponent, Stacy Abrams.

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Contact: Malik Russell / mrussell@naacpnet.org

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