Voting Machines, MATA, and Mike Pence 

As members of the Shelby County Commission prepared to meet in committee on Wednesday for one more crack at finding a solution for funding a county contribution to MATA (Memphis Area Transit Authority), they will have yet another enigma to deal with — the matter of new voting machines for Shelby County.

The question is not whether new machines will be purchased. County Election Administrator Linda Phillips is committed to that. The problem is what kind, and an aggressive complement of present and past public officials are intent upon arguing for machines that not only have paper-check capability but are based upon hand-marked paper ballots, as against those marked by mechanical means.

click to enlarge Activists for new voting machines - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Activists for new voting machines

Meeting with reporters in the lobby of the Vasco Smith County Building last Friday to advocate for a forthcoming resolution by Commissioner Van Turner to purchase hand-marked ballots were State Representative Joe Towns, County Commissioner Reginald Milton, former Commissioner Steve Mulroy, former legislator and city council member Carol Chumney, former legislator and Memphis School Board member Mike Kernell, longtime activist Dr. Yahweh, recent council candidate Erika Sugarmon, and Germantown activist Sarah Freeman. The thrust of their argument is distilled in this issue on page 8, in the Viewpoint by Mulroy.

In the press conference, the predominant message was perhaps summed up by Kernell, who said apropos the ballot-marking machines evidently intended by administrator Phillips, "Why replace old hackable machines with new hackable machines?"

• Besides dealing with the issue of voting machines, the commission will use part of its committee time on Wednesday to consider a compromise version of the previously proposed wheel tax increase to benefit MATA. Sponsored by Democratic Commissioners Willie Brooks, Turner, and Republican Brandon Morrison, and reportedly supported by Mayor Lee Harris, the measure would keep the controversial $20 surcharge of the originally proposed wheel tax measure but allocate its proceeds both to MATA and toward the funding of additional sheriff's deputies in the recently de-annexed portions of Memphis.

• To the satisfaction of many Memphians and the dismay of others, this year's holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King was preceded by a visit to Memphis from Vice President Mike Pence, who made ceremonial appearances at the National Civil Rights Museum Downtown and at Holy City Church of God in Christ on James Road.

At the latter venue, Pence was allowed to deliver a homily from the dais — to, in his words, "pay a debt of honor and respect to the man who, walking the dirt roads of the Deep South and speaking to hundreds of thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, touched the hearts of the American people, and led the civil rights movement to triumph over Jim Crow."

Pence also made a point of working into his remarks a series of encomia to the administration which he serves, alleging, for example, that "under the leadership of President Donald Trump, we have created more than 8,700 opportunity zones, including many here in Tennessee, creating new investment and jobs to underserved communities across the nation. I'm proud to say that today, African-American unemployment is at the lowest level ever recorded. Not long ago, surrounded by university leaders, President Trump made the more than $250 million in annual funding to historically black colleges and universities permanent under federal law."

It was the likelihood of Pence's imposing such self-serving remarks on the occasion that no doubt provoked a corps of protesters to the scene of the James Road event. But they, and members of the news media, were cordoned off by police to an area several blocks removed from the site of the church.

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