The outlook for proposed new voting machines looks more muddled than ever after a virtual telemeeting of the Shelby County Election Commission (SCEC) Wednesday that was marred by the frequently indistinct audio transmission.
But numerous testimonies from participating citizens were noted, most of them being read into the record from written statements supplied to the SCEC. The great majority of comments were in favor of equipment allowing hand-marked paper ballots, with arguments ranging from cost savings to transparency to an alleged greater safety factor relative to touch-screen alternatives during the coronavirus pandemic.
The roster of citizens calling in or contributing statements ranged far and wide and included sitting public officials and a bevy of well-known activists.
Originally, the five election commissioners were scheduled to vote Wednesday on a recommendation by Election Administrator Linda Phillips of a specific machine vendor, but a vote was postponed to allow the meeting to substitute for a previously promised public comment meeting that had been sidetracked by the onset of the epidemic.
It is taken for granted that Administrator Phillips favors machine-marked voting instruments outfitted so as to allow for a paper trail, but no details on her preference were presented Wednesday.
At the end of the meeting, Commissioner Brent Taylor, one of the three Republican representatives on the five-member commission, moved to postpone any voting until whatever turns out to be the Phillips/staff recommendation can be presented to County Mayor Lee Harris, who can then certify it and call for a vote by the County Commission, which has the responsibility of funding the new machines.
That strategy, which was adopted by the Election Commission, would not directly alter Phillips’ choice, regarded as likely to be endorsed by the SCEC, but it would enable the results of the SCEC-ordered RFP (request for proposal) to be made public, and it would give the County Commission, which had previously voted in favor of hand-marked paper ballots, some means of expressing its collective mind — and possibly its will — on the matter.
As it happened, the County Commission, which was meeting in committee simultaneously with the Election Commission, had on its agenda yet another resolution endorsing hand-cast paper ballots but agreed to send the issue down to its Monday public meeting without a recommendation after hearing of the Election Commission’s action.