An ad hoc committee created by Shelby County Commission Chairman Willie Brooks Jr. will study the possible consolidation of the City of Memphis and Shelby County governments. 

by James Coleman —

A resolution to purchase ballot marking devices failed to gain approval from the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, with a majority opting for hand-marked paper ballots.

Commissioners made the decision during their Monday meeting. The add-on commission agenda item requested that the county’s purchasing department assist with procuring voting machines and services that support paper ballots. 

It was sponsored by Chairman Eddie Jones. Commissioner Tami Sawyer was added as a co-sponsor. It passed 8-2.

Voting in favor of paper ballots were Commissioners Van Turner Jr., Tami Sawyer, Michael Whaley, Mick Wright, Reginald Milton, Willie F. Brooks, Mickell Lowery and Jones.

Commissioners Mark Billingsley and Edmund Ford, Jr. voted no. Commissioner Brandon Morrison abstained.

Shelby County Election Commissioner Brent Taylor Tuesday (July 27) accused the commission of “bypassing” the Election Commission “once (election commission) members have left the building.”

The Election Commission-approved machines would have allowed voters to cast votes on a screen. A printout with a bar code would provide a paper trail to provide confirmation. The machines currently in use don’t provide a printout. 

The Election Commission voted to advance the $3.99 million contract, despite knowing it was against the wishes of the county commission. 

“This resolution comes forward, it does not match – to your words and to your opposition’s words – does not match what a year ago we said we were majority in favor of,” Sawyer said.

A similar attempt was voted down in October. Then, the proposed hybrid system would have permitted paper ballots and marking devices.

“That was voted down by the commission because the contract did not match the bid amount … The reason it did not match the bid amount was because we incorporated what we would need for the hand-marked paper ballots,” said Taylor.

He then said the Election Commission used the same request for proposal (RFP) to adopt a new resolution for the contract. The $3.99 million contract would have gone to ballot marking devices.

Going forward, a new resolution could be an option for the Election Commission. If the Election Commission decides to take the matter to Chancery Court, a chancellor could compel commissioners to pony up for ballot marking devices. 

“I think it is unfortunate for this to end up in court rather than us finding a solution,” said commissioner Wright, who abstained from voting.

The commissioner also wanted to know if the next election would feature hand-marked paper ballots.

“Your action today does not necessarily mean you will be voting on hand marked paper ballots in 2022. Your vote today, if the commission turns it down, will place the issue squarely back to an election issue, which means we will need to assess what our options are,” said Taylor.

He also suggested the current machines could be used in the next election.