A Memphis Poll Worker Was Turning Away Voters Who Supported ‘Black Lives Matter’

A woman drapes a Black Lives Matter t-shirt over her shoulders on H Street, near the White House, in Washington, DC on June 8, 2020. - On May 25, 2020, Floyd, a 46-year-old black man suspected of passing a counterfei... A woman drapes a Black Lives Matter t-shirt over her shoulders on H Street, near the White House, in Washington, DC on June 8, 2020. - On May 25, 2020, Floyd, a 46-year-old black man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, died in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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October 20, 2020 11:51 a.m.

A poll worker in Memphis, Tennessee, was fired last week after turning away early voters who were wearing “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” shirts, an elections official said Monday.

The worker was let go after officials received a call from a witness at the Dave Wells Community Center polling station, Shelby County Election Commission spokeswoman Suzanne Thompson told the Associated Press.

The North Memphis poll worker had asked at least one early voter on Friday to turn a shirt with a message related to the racial justice movement inside-out, the election commission said, according to CBS affiliate WREG-TV

The Shelby County Election Commission did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

Elections administrator Linda Phillips told the local station that the fired poll worker had been repeatedly made aware of the rules.

“He was given very clear instructions. He was given clear instructions the next day, and again didn’t pay attention to them. So he was terminated.” Phillips told AP.

While it’s a matter of protocol for poll workers to ask voters wearing a shirt with the name of a political candidate or party to turn it inside-out when inside the polling place, the policy wouldn’t have applied to a Black Lives Matter t-shirt. Moreover, state law does not ban voters from donning clothing bearing statements such as “Black Lives Matter,” Thompson told AP.

The number of voters who were told to leave was not immediately known, Thompson said, suggesting to AP it had been a few. Thompson noted that the poll worker had believed the statements were tied to the Democratic Party.

“That was pretty bad,” she said. “They were not supposed to be turned away.”

President Donald Trump has often sought to paint Black Lives Matter as a dangerous movement with deep ties to “antifa” — which he has designated as a “terrorist organization” — blaming it for stirring violence amid protests against racial injustice and police brutality. Attorney General William Barr has echoed those sentiments, claiming groups using “antifa-like tactics” had incited violence in Minneapolis after the police killing of George Floyd.

The comments, tying the movement for racial justice in recent months with antifa and what Trump has called the “radical left,” appear to contradict those made by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who testified before Congress last month, saying that antifa is more akin to an ideology or movement than a singular organization.

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