MEMPHIS — Poll watchers in Memphis and Nashville reported many voting problems on Tuesday, but few had to do with Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law.
Instead, volunteers and city officials said people were turned away because of address problems while others gave up in the face of long lines and overwhelmed poll workers.
In Nashville, a coalition organized by government watchdog group Tennessee Citizen Action had about 125 volunteer poll watchers working Tuesday.
Asked what problems they were seeing, Director Mary Mancini said, “What aren’t they seeing?”
She ticked off the issues.
“There’s one polling place with 5 voting machines and only one machine operator. They’re running out of change-of-address forms and people are being sent away. They’re running out of provisional ballots. ... People are not being offered provisional ballots; they’re just being turned away,” Mancini said.
One of those to be turned away was Rudolph Johnson, a 30-year-old African-American who voted for the first time in 2008 for Barack Obama. Johnson said in an interview at a South Nashville polling place that he had photo identification but had lost his voter identification card. After waiting in line for about an hour he was told by poll workers they couldn’t find his name on the rolls.
He was sent away without being offered a provisional ballot, but a volunteer poll watcher stopped him and helped him vote provisionally.
Federal voting monitors were in place in both Nashville and Memphis, where one of the biggest problems being reported was people who were turned away because their polling places had changed due to redistricting.
Deputy City Attorney Regina Morrison Newman said that by late afternoon her office had fielded more than 200 calls from voters, most of them been turned away from their usual polling places. She said lawyers in her office were able to direct voters to their correct polling places, but she was astounded at the number of calls they had received.
Another problem seemed to be isolated to voters who lived on a single Memphis street.
One of them was Greg Gonda, a 64-year-old retired teacher, who said his address was incorrectly listed as North Holmes Street instead of South Holmes Street. He had to cast a provisional ballot at Davis Community Center. He left the precinct unsure if his vote would be counted.
“It’s such an important election, how hard is it to check addresses and stuff before they send the stuff out, especially for people who have been voting here for 30 years?” Gonda said.
Meanwhile, no problems were being reported in Shelby County from voters using new library photo IDs.
The city sued after state elections officials refused to accept the library cards in the August primaries. That issue was part of a lawsuit by voters who want the courts to repeal the state’s photo ID law.
Two weeks ago, in the midst of early voting, the state Court of Appeals upheld the voter ID law but also ruled that the library cards were valid for voting. The state appealed the ruling and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear it, just not in time to affect Election Day.
Shelby County Election Administrator Richard Holden said he expects the impact of library cards to be minimal. During early voting, about 20 out of about 232,000 voters used Memphis library cards as their photo ID.
One person who did vote with a library card was Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., who led the push to get the library cards approved as valid voter IDs.
At Gaston Community Center, Memphis voter James Harris, a 54-year-old Democrat, praised the photo ID law. He liked the fact that the library cards were accepted although he used a different photo ID.
“Identification lets us know who we are, what we are, it’s the perfect process,” Harris said.