A poll worker in Memphis, Tennessee, was fired for turning away voters wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts, according to a report by CBS News. The worker was fired on Friday from the Shelby County Election Commission, after working at the Dave Wells Community Center. So far, it is not clear how many voters this person might have turned away, or how they will be reached to come back.
Tennessee law prohibits voters from wearing clothing items bearing the name of a candidate or a political party at polling places, and the fired worker reportedly argued that "Black Lives Matter" and related slogans like "I Can't Breathe" are related to the Democratic party. Shelby County Election Commission spokesperson Suzanne Thompson said that the law does not apply to these kinds of garments. The poll worker was fired after witnesses called the commission to complain. Thompson said that only "a few" voters were turned away, but did not disclose the exact number. "That was pretty bad," she said. "They were not supposed to be turned away."
Elections administrator Linda Phillips told reporters that the fired poll worker had been told several times what the rules were, and continued to enforce them incorrectly anyway. She said: "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."
Tennessee is one of many states conducting early voting this year in the hopes of minimizing the risk of spreading the coronavirus at polling places. The state is hosting early voting at select locations through Oct. 29, and then closing again until election day on Nov. 3. The early voting turnout on Wednesday and Thursday reportedly set state records.
As the story of the fired poll worker spread on social media, many commenters complained that this was an act of voter suppression that would go unpunished. One person tweeted: "calling BLM political attire is a bit of stretch," while another added: "Seriously, what is more treasonous than denying a citizen their right to vote? Where is the constitutionalist outrage we have for the 2A?"
Many called on Tennessee officials to put some resources behind this problem to find the voters who were turned away, reach out to them, and give them the opportunity to cast their ballot. So far, there is no word of any such effort from the commission.
The Black Lives Matter movement is dedicated to ending systemic racism, with no particular ties to any major political party in the U.S. Many commenters argued that if poll workers saw it as a Democratic message, that only reflected poorly on the Republican party. The movement is not centralized, but leaders in the movement have spoken out against the Tennesse poll worker for turning those voters away.