The Poll Watcher Brigade, Inc. on Monday (Dec. 3) held a reception at the Benjamin L. Hooks Main Library to honor the poll watchers that worked at the polling locations for the November 6 General Election.
As the founder of the group, I was very excited about the response and the effectiveness of each volunteer poll watcher. Each exemplified being a citizen of our volunteer state.
This is just the beginning. These volunteers are making of history, starting right here in Memphis. It is our plan to make the Poll Watcher Brigade a National Organization ,with chapters across the United States. We are really already national on Google.
Each watcher received a membership card, which comes with service. There is no fee to join – just service.
Many of the watchers gave testimonies of their experience and their feeling of empowerment wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "POLL WATCHER" and their appointment badge from the Election Commission. State Reps. Joe Towns Jr., Larry Miller, Barbara Cooper and G.A. Hardaway presented certificates of recognition. State Reps. Johnnie Turner and Larry Miller addressed the group, stressing the importance of having poll watchers and the need to continue and be ready for the 2014 elections.
Carmen Johnson, a retired captain with the Sheriff's Department, a core member of the brigade and the web site designer gave an overview of the November 6 election. She urged the group to keep in touch with the brigade by checking out the web site – www.poll watcherbrigadeinc.com – and making using of email (pollwatcherbrigade@ gmail.com) or calling 901-235-3510.
The Poll Watcher Brigade was needed because Tennessee was one of several states controlled by a Republican legislature that put measures in place to suppress the vote. Tennessee's suppression attempt was not as intense as other states because Tennessee was considered a red state, a state that would be in the Republican column for the November election. The suppression of voters was all about red states (Republican), blue states (Democrat) and purple states (swing states).
In the blue and purple states where the Republican Legislature was in control, many laws were passed to suppress the vote. The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law that required a picture ID to vote. Republican lawmakers said it was being done to stop voter fraud, but it was part of a national effort to suppress the vote across the United States. There were more people of color, poor and elderly who did not have an ID with a picture.
Additionally, Tennessee has a law that allowed persons who were 65 and older to opt out of a picture on their driver's license. There were thousands of Tennessee citizens that were being affected by this new law. Many organizations, including the NAACP, and individuals got busy helping people to get a state-issued photo ID to ensure they could vote.
Mayor A C Wharton Jr.'s administration went to court to get a ruling on the use of a library card with a photo for identification purposes. The law stated a government-issued ID could be used. A ruling in the City's favor did not come down until several days before the November 6 election. The Shelby County Election Commission did not notify the Officer of Elections at each of polling sites that the library could be used. Many were forced to use a provisional ballot, which was not counted.
There were other voters who stood in long lines to vote, but when they reached that area they were told they were at the wrong voting location. This was a problem created by the Election Commission, which combined a number of polling places and did not notify the voters that their voting location had changed.
With all that suppression, we still had a record number of Shelby County voters cast ballots. Early voters totaled 232,690, with a total vote of 372,123 for the November election. There are 599,223 registered voters in Shelby County.
The voter turnout was not just high in Shelby County. There were record numbers across the United States. We can conclude that suppression efforts backfired, giving voters another motive to exercise their right to vote.
Members of the Poll Watcher Brigade attended the Shelby County Election Commission on November 26 for the certification of the election results. They addressed the problems that were encountered and ask commissioners to correct the issues for future elections.
The commission was put on notice that this is just the beginning. We will be there to work with them and serve as the eyes and ears for the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County.
We are an army ready to protect the vote.