FedExForum officially out as polling site option

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The FedExForum is out as a November voting site.

The Shelby County Election Commission voted Tuesday afternoon and the motion failed.

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Election Commissioner Bennie Smith believes that’s a missed opportunity for the community.

“We can have the voting machines lined up around the venue, we don’t have to go to the floor to do it. There’s a practice facility to the right, you could have had it in there, we could have had a number of things,” said Smith during the meeting.

Smith said this was a discussion that should have included the commission much earlier.

“This was an issue that rose to the level of the commission, but more importantly it rose to the level of the city leaders. Think of how many jobs during COVID that we could have employed people to work the polls,” said Smith.

Election administrator Linda Phillips said she met with Grizzles management this summer about using the arena.

But she said it would have been a logistical challenge including difficulties getting internet access, too many access points in the area and cost.

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“If they opened the parking garage, then you need parking attendants, elevator attendants, you need more security, you know which is going to be very expensive,” said Phillips.

Smith believes federal CARES act funding could have been used to help offset any extra costs.

Additionally, Philips said election equipment is limited too, so if they used the FedExForum, other early voting sites would have to close.

Phillps said they will use the FedExForum on Election Day to county absentee ballots.

The commission is also now considering Crosstown Concourse as a possible location for early voting.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, a small group of pastors held a worship protest outside the meeting room.

Pastor Kenneth Whalum, the organizer of the event, tried to get the Shelby County Election Commission’s attention through praise and worship.

Whalum said he was in touch with a spokesman for the Memphis Grizzlies Tuesday.

According to the pastor, he was told the Grizzlies offered to let the commission use the FedExForum as a polling site, as several other NBA teams have done with their arena.

“If you can get 18,000 people in place for a basketball game, you can arrange it logistically for a few people, even if it’s just three people to exercise their right to vote,” Whalum said. “I don’t think that’s a problem.”

The Grizzlies released a statement saying this past June, the team reached out to the Election Commission to understand how they could best work together.