Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Dispute Over Election Machines Remains Unsettled

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2020 at 9:36 PM

The tug-of-war between Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips and the adherents of paper-ballot voting over the purchase of new election machines continues apace.

The most recent development, detailed in a November 18th Flyer article, involved the administrator’s purchase of three new ballot-marking devices for the ongoing runoff elections in Collierville.

The machines are manufactured by the ES&S Company and are of a type previously preferred by a 4-1 vote of the Shelby County Election Commission but rejected for funding by the Shelby County Commision, which, in the interests of transparency, had established its own preference for handmarked paper-ballot devices in several prior votes.

The funding source for the three machines had been — publicly, at least — something of a mystery. According to SCEC sources, the machines were paid for by the office of the Secretary of State in Nashville

The purchase of the machines had been revealed last week in a formal SCEC press release, which contended that there had been no alternative to acquiring them, inasmuch as the old machines used by Collierville in the city's first round of elections earlier this month were tied up, pending certification this week of the November 3rd results.

click to enlarge Election Commissioner Bennie Smith - JB
  • JB
  • Election Commissioner Bennie Smith
Early voting for Collierville’s mandatory runoff period had meanwhile been scheduled to begin on Wednesday of last week.

Controversies remain: One of the reasons for the  county commission’s rejection of the SCEC’s preference for the ES&S machines (which had been selected over two other bidders) had to do with the commission’s aforementioned preference for devices enabling the use of paper ballots.
But another reason had been the county commission’s objection to additional costs for accessories added by the administrator’s office to the bids received from ES&S and two rival bidders.

At its meeting of October 23rd, the SCEC board voted to re-submit its request for county commission funding of the ES&S machines, minus the objected-to accessories. That expenditure would be something like $3.9 million, as against the sum of $5,815,405 requested beforehand.

But, said Brent Taylor and Frank Uhlhorn, two members of the three-member SCEC Republican majority, this “skinny” version of the prior request would not include money for accessories needed to facilitate the option of paper-ballot voting for those who wanted it. As part of its selection process, the SCEC board had previously voted to provide the option, and its deletion now further imperils the prospects of county commission approval.

In the meantime, Election Commission Democratic member Bennie Smith has cried foul about the commission’s promised provision for paper-ballot voting during the Collierville runoffs.

Smith and members of his family are residents of Collierville and recently went to vote in one of the three available voting locations, trusting, said Smith, to this statement in the SCEC press release: "There will be a ballot-on-demand printer capable of printing ballots on-demand for those who want to use hand marked paper ballots. If a voter would prefer to vote on paper, that ballot will be printed on the spot."

Instead of being offered that option, though, Smith said he and his family members were not informed of its availability and were able to vote by paper ballot only upon having to insist on it.

Complaining about this to Phillips, Smith received an email containing the following statement: “We aren’t offering the paper ballot option because at this moment it isn’t an option going forward. This was discussed in the October 23rd SCEC meeting; when the decision was made to go forward with the skinny resolution, it also eliminated the paper ballot option since the accessories included the BOD printers necessary to offer that option in Early Voting.”

The circumstances behind this standoff are either complicated or simple, depending one one’s perspective, but the bottom line is that the twain are nowhere close to meeting just yet.

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