MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - City and county officials held a joint news conference Tuesday to discuss election preparations and enhanced security measures for the Nov. 3 election.
Leaders assured Shelby Countians their right to vote will be protected from intimidation or civil unrest amid a polarizing presidential election cycle.
At least 134,000 Shelby Countians have cast ballots in-person early, setting records. Early voting started Oct. 14 and runs until Oct. 29.
City and county leaders said they are on the lookout for any disruptions to that process. No large-scale threats have been uncovered to this point.
“There is fear and anxiety around what will happen around Election Day. But rest assured, there is lots of activity taking place right now to keep all of us safe,” said Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.
Officials said Tuesday they’ve already been involved with simulation exercises with TEMA on voter intimidation, voter suppression and civil unrest surrounding the election.
“Concerns have been voiced nationally and here locally regarding potential unrest, voter intimidation, and manipulation of votes during and after this year’s election,” said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “The integrity of your vote will be maintained.”
Additional simulation exercises within Shelby County’s office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security took place Tuesday.
“Our goal was to make sure that voters are protected and safely exercise their right to vote, that election officials are safe and able to discharge their responsibilities,” said Joe Young, chief deputy administrator of elections with the Shelby County Election Commission. “We are all responsible and accountable to the public to make sure that their rights are not abridged in any way and that they have the ability to go and exercise their right to vote peacefully and without any type of threat to their person or without fear.”
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and Memphis Police Department said they’re working in close contact with other county law enforcement agencies as well as the Shelby County Election Commission to ensure voting carries on without threats or violence.
“We will be on the lookout for any disturbance or threats and give our officials the support they need at this critical time,” said MPD Director Mike Rallings.
Election officials noted law enforcement is prohibited by state law from being at polls unless an officer is there to vote or they’re making an arrest or have been called to the scene.
Rallings said his officers will not be posted at voting sites but will patrol the area. The same message was echoed by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
“You may see our squad cars driving through early voting locations. You may see them on Election Day. But they are just there to make sure everything is peaceful,” said Scott Wright, Chief Deputy, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
Election officials said they want to ensure voting continues with minimal interruptions.
Last week a poll worker was fired for turning away voters wearing Black Lives Matter apparel as they attempted to vote at the Dave Wells Community Center in Frayser.
The election commission said voters cannot come into polling places wearing apparel advocating for a candidate or a position on the ballot. In that case, Black Lives Matter was not on the ballot, so the apparel is permitted.
Election officials said they had a small issue at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church where poll workers from two campaigns got into verbal conflicts. The SCEC asked the campaigns to reassign their supporters to different polling places because of the impact that could have on voters attempting to cast ballots.