This is a story about how a voter discovered that her Election Day polling place was wrong. And it’s an example of how both city and county government managed to bungle basic information weeks before a highly watched election, in which voters will choose the next county mayor, sheriff, several judges, school board members and county commissioners.
It raises questions about oversight and it’s a reminder that protecting democracy requires vigilance.
Ahead are a lot of screenshots — follow the orange arrows.
Aimee Stiegemeyer, who lives in Midtown, wanted to know where her voting site was, so she went to the City of Memphis’ website, where she found this.
Following the “Find your district” link took her here, to a site labeled “Shelby County Elections Districts.” It has “shelbycountytn.gov” in the URL, which sounds official — right?
Plus it says “present by the Shelby County Election Commission” (SCEC) at the top. It’s grammatically incorrect, but a reasonable person could still conclude that this was where she could get the information needed.
Here, Stiegemeyer entered her address, which I’m blurring out to protect her privacy.
And as you can see, the site tells her that the voting site for her precinct is the Memphis Leadership Foundation. (I took these screenshots today.)
But Stiegemeyer remembered she’d gotten a letter earlier this year that said her Election Day voting site was somewhere else.
About four months ago, SCEC told Stiegemeyer that her Election Day voting site is Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, one of the early voting sites that a judge ordered the SCEC to open after the Memphis chapter of the NAACP sued the commission, alleging that changes to early voting locations would affect black voters.
I emailed the SCEC spokesperson yesterday with screenshots that the voter provided and got this response from Linda Phillips, SCEC’s administrator of elections.
“The voter should go to Mississippi Blvd to vote on Election Day,” Phillips responded last night. “I will try to get the What District app fixed, but we don’t control that.”
But the “What District” site is the same site that the Shelby County Election Commission’s own website uses.
Start at shelbyvote.com, the Shelby County Election Commission’s official website.
Then go to “Voters” and take the dropdown menu to “What Districts Am I In?”
From “What Districts Am I In?”, click the Shelby County Election Commission District Locator.
Which takes you to… wait for it… wait for it… The Shelby County Election Districts page present (sic) by the Shelby County Election Commission. Which is still giving the wrong information four months after the SCEC told voters in Midtown that their polling place had changed.
To recap: Even though SCEC administrator Phillips says that her office doesn’t control the “What District Am I In?” redirect, that’s the site to which the SCEC is sending people.
It was only Saturday that intrepid journalist Kirstin Cheers reported that Shelby County Election Commission opened an early polling site nearly an hour late. And this was one of two sites SCEC was ordered to open after a judge agreed with the Memphis chapter of the NAACP and the Shelby County Democratic party that SCEC changes to early voting sites would suppress the vote in mostly black neighborhoods.
The Tennessee Secretary of State office’s voter lookup website did provide Stiegemeyer’s correct polling location.
Update: The SCEC responded to my questions about how many voters are in the 17–00 precinct, how many were notified and how the lookup site is checked.
The media contact’s reply:
In the 17–00 location, 1,711, letters were mailed to every registered voter, active and inactive. In March there were 1332 active voters in that district….
The process to check the lookup site: Names and addresses of voters are tested randomly. The ones that were tested after the change took place were correct. It would be untenable for the EC to test each of the addresses, given that they have 17 full-time employees, including the Administrator and Deputy Administrator.
The website is maintained by a technician at the Shelby County IT Department. I believe they use GIS in programming it.
Linda just sent the list of precinct locations over to IT again, and asked them to check it and correct any errors. The work order was marked urgent.
I’ve also reached out to the City of Memphis for comment. Stay tuned.
Early voting continues through Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.
Where do we go from here?
- Look up your polling place — using the State of Tennessee’s site:
- Follow #UPTheVote901 on social media for local get out the vote efforts.
Who are you taking with you to the polls TUHDAY???
ALL SITES ARE OPEN. LET’S SET A RECORD IN TURNOUT. WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!
Let me know if you have any questions. #UPTHEVOTE901
— Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Ph.D. (@Pastor_Earle) July 20, 2018
Read more about the Memphis NAACP’s successful lawsuit against SCEC here.
- Check out The Commercial Appeal’s endorsements for Shelby County Mayor and Shelby County Sheriff. (Spoiler: they picked Democrat Lee Harris and Republican Dale Lane.)
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Center for Community Change and the Surdna Foundation.