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Hamilton County Commissioners at odds over allegations of voter suppression

(Image: WTVC file photo)
(Image: WTVC file photo)
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We're digging deeper into allegations that Hamilton County's Election Commission is taking part in voter suppression.

This week, Tennessee State Representative Yusuf Hakeem wrote a letter to the Secretary of State calling for an investigation into the Hamilton County Election Commission.

He says his concerns include voter suppression, discriminatory hiring practices for both full time and part time election employees, as well as funding for the election commission.

On Friday, we took those concerns to the people in charge of approving the office's budget.

We asked Hamilton County Election Commission for a list of voting sites between November 3rd, 2019, and this upcoming election.

We found that there are fewer this year.

They've changed a total of 16 locations in the past year, and seven locations were condensed.

The Election Commission gave a reason for each change, with some because of COVID precautions and others because community members asked for the change.

Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey says he supports a state investigation into the county election commission.

“We want to make sure the vote coming out of Hamilton County is a fair vote and a correct vote,” Mackey said.

Mackey says he's seen examples of voter suppression firsthand.

“The polls open at eight, people were standing in line, they weren't able to vote 'til a quarter 'til nine,” he said.

Representative Yusuf Hakeem called for this investigation after getting a list of complaints from community members in the last two weeks.

“Voter suppression to me is if you have 20 sites and you're closing all but four, the availability to get off of work and be able to vote,” Hakeem said.

The Secretary of State Tre Hargett says they have full confidence in Hamilton County’s ability to run a fair election.

County Commissioner Greg Martin agrees and says that they have provided the Election Commission with adequate funding.

"I don't know how you can call that suppression I call that expansion," Martin said. “I think we have more opportunities that people are engaged citizens.

As for whether Secretary Hargett will launch an investigation of the election commission, his office says he will be providing a letter seeking more specific information from Rep. Hakeem.

Tequila Johnson, co-founder of a non-profit organization called the Equity Alliance says Tennessee has a history of voter suppression.

"What about people who don't have adequate access or resources to get to the polls," Johnson said.

She said whenever a polling precinct is moved, it puts people, especially minorities at a disadvantage.

"It's hard to continuously tell people to go out in vote with all the racial injustices, and for them to continuously see the goalpost keeps being moved," Johnson said.

Johnson said this can lead to a bigger issue of whether or not they think voting will even impact an election.

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"They know they are being inconvenienced and this is why they think their vote doesn't matter," Johnson said.

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