Considering all the delays that have occurred in the drawn-out and contentious process of acquiring a new election system for Shelby County, this will not be the most surprising news: There will be no new devices — whether of the ballot-marking sort or of the hand-marked variety — for any county elections this year.
Word from the Election Commission is that, for several reasons, the federal/state primaries and the county general election scheduled for August will be performed on the county’s existing and outmoded machinery, and the same goes for the November election.
One of the reasons for the postponement, according to an EC source familiar with the thinking in the office of Election Administrator Linda Phillips, is uncertainty, at least in her mind, over the availability of funds allocated by the Shelby County Commission. Funding for a new election system was allocated last year by the county commission for the purchase of a new election system in the current fiscal year, but the money has not yet been appropriated.
Election Commissioner Linda Phillips
Phillips is said to believe that the funding process for new machines has been shifted to the coming fiscal year, 2020-21, but county commissioners involved in the ongoing process of determining the new budget said that was not the case. The administrator has told election commission members that no voting on any new system will occur until 2022 but that the state has committed to providing new scanners to accommodate the demands of increased mail-in voting this year.
There is still an element of suspense regarding the nature of the new election system, whenever it comes to be. The election commission recently accepted Phillips’ recommendation for the purchase of new ballot-marking devices from the ESS company, but considerable support still exists for hand-marked ballots, both in the community at large and on the majority-Democratic Shelby County Commission, which has the prerogative to appropriate the funding — and, arguably, to designate the type of machinery.
In any case, County Mayor Lee Harris has signed the necessary “intent-to-award” letter to allow the purchasing process to proceed. It remains to be seen when the county commission can cut through the current snags regarding budget calculations to address the matter.