A state court judge in Tennessee ruled Thursday that Shelby County, which contains Memphis, must let voters whose registrations were stalled due to incomplete information to vote with regular ballots on Election Day, once the deficiencies are corrected.
The ruling came in a case brought by the Tennessee Black Voter Project, which saw thousands of registrations forms it turned in deemed incomplete by the Shelby County Elections Commission.
The legal fight over the registration forms comes as Tennessee is the site of a close U.S. Senate race between former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R). Memphis is home to a concentration of Tennessee’s African American vote.
The NAACP joined the Tennessee Black Voter Project in bringing the lawsuit.
The county had set up a system for affected voters who vote early to call a help line at their polling place, provide the missing information and then vote with a regular ballot. However, election officials said such a system wasn’t logistically possible on Election Day itself, and voters in that situation would have to vote provisionally instead.
The challengers had raised concerns that many of those provisional ballots would never be counted.
Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins, at a hearing Thursday, sided with the challengers, according to a report in the Commercial Appeal, and ordered that the county let those voters vote with regular ballots on Election Day as well, once they have corrected the missing information on their registration forms.
Election officials, who say they will appeal Jenkins’ ruling, complained that letting those voters vote regularly on Election Day will make the county vulnerable to voter fraud, according to the Commercial Appeal.
“It’s possible under the format you’re suggesting for fraud to be committed,” elections administrator Linda Phillips said, testifying that the precinct poll books aren’t connected on Election Day, making it possible for people to vote multiple times, according to the report.
Jenkins also ordered that the commission notify the voters whose registrations are stalled by deficiencies on their forms, the Commercial Appeal reported, and that the commission provide for the groups who sued them a list of the people whose registrations have not been completed.
The commission has estimated that around 55 percent of the 10,000 ballots the Tennessee Black Voter Project had turned in the lead-up to the registration deadline had been deemed invalid, but those also include duplicates as well as those rejected for felony convictions.