Amid voting machine chaos, Hinds Co. administrator tells election commissioners to shut out the media

Hinds County recently hired Terry's Installation to deliver voting machines to all 108...
Hinds County recently hired Terry's Installation to deliver voting machines to all 108 precincts. A special election is slated for November 2.(WLBT)
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 11:17 AM CDT

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Two days after WLBT first reported Hinds County election commissioners’ concerns about a new contractor hired to deliver voting machines for Tuesday’s special election, a new firm is now doing the work.

Meanwhile, County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones says he’s put a “gag order” on commissioners, ordering them not to talk to the press.

Hinds County election commissioners say Professionals on Wheels has been out delivering machines since 6 a.m.

Meanwhile, crews with Terry’s Installation were bringing back nine machines that had not been delivered.

Details of the Professionals on Wheels’ contract were not known. It was not known if Terry’s was still doing deliveries.

Election Commissioner Chairman Jermal Clark and a Terry’s employee, identified as Mr. Vincent, were going over paperwork in the commission’s warehouse when WLBT arrived.

Clark and Vincent declined to comment, with Clark saying that all responses needed to come from the Hinds County Board of Supervisors.

It was unknown how many election machines still had to be delivered Friday morning. Approximately 40 machines were still in the commission’s warehouse.

Commissioner Shirley Varnado did not know the details of the contract or how much Professionals would be paid.

She said commissioners had not received a copy of the contract.

Terry’s was awarded a $30,000 contract. Kenneth Wiliams, the owner of Professionals on Wheels, submitted an initial quote of $33,500.

As of Friday evening, county officials said they had not settled on a price.

In all, more than 150 voting machines, as well as express voting machines to accommodate individuals with disabilities, must be delivered to 108 precincts before Election Day Tuesday.

Commissioners continue to talk to the media, in spite of Jones’ gag order.

After not responding to WLBT’s requests for comment for nearly a week, Jones said Friday that he had ordered all inquiries on the election to go through his office.

“I issued the gag order,” he said. “Those are elected officials, but we are responsible for the election. Those are other elected officials, but ultimately Hinds County is responsible for the election. So with us being responsible for the election, yes I did.”

“He can’t put a gag order on an election commissioner,” Varnado said.

“Only a judge can do that,” District 4 Commissioner Yvonne Horton added. “You go back and ask him to let you look at the statute that gives him that authority.”

Jones later clarified that he didn’t issue an order, but was asking commissioners to refrain from speaking to media to prevent false information from being released. “I asked them to let the county handle it from here,” he explained. “Let the information come from one centralized location.”

Varnado said she received an email from Jones recently advising her not to talk to the media and to direct all inquiries to the board of supervisors or the administrator, but did not respond.

The email was sent as WLBT began looking into the hiring of Terry’s Installation to deliver the voting machines.

We reached out to the administrator’s office last Friday via email, but Jones and Director of Administration Stephen Hopkins refused to answer our questions.

Tuesday, Hopkins said his office needed additional time to gather the information. “We are currently gathering information on several requests you have made. These request(s) are outside of our normal reporting duties. This information also has to be validated to ensure we are providing you with the most accurate up-to-date information possible. Please understand we cannot accommodate your timing for stories as they come up. Our team (including me) is working as fast as we can to answer your questions. I will be in touch soon.”

Our questions included basic inquiries, such as when the county bid out the delivery work, how many companies submitted bids, and why the county needed to bid out the work. We also asked for the amounts for each bid received, which we obtained through other sources. We also asked whether Terry’s Installation had the capacity to do the work.

Several commissioners wondered whether Terry’s would be able to complete the project, with the company’s CEO, Johnnie Terry, telling the commission at a special meeting last week that he had not previously delivered election equipment.

Jones spoke with Investigative Reporter CJ Lemaster and Reporter Roslyn Anderson Friday morning after two of our stories ran.

“Everything with this process is in line and in order,” Jones said. “I’ve seen vendors and other people who contract say that they’re not and didn’t know how to do that job and that was not true. And I have to apologize for that reference going out here for anybody who was trying to work for the county or any other entity.”

Jones said part of the problem for Terry’s was that the company was given the wrong precinct address. “So what we had was, we went back (and) redid some of the addresses and all of that. The county did that. And then when you bring in a new vendor, you didn’t tell them that the addresses had been changed. So they got out there, had to bring them back until they got that solved, and got blamed for something that wasn’t even their issue.”

Just five precinct locations are being changed for the special election. The commission provided a list of all precinct addresses and contacts to the vendor at a special meeting last week, prior to Terry’s beginning deliveries. The commission also made additional changes to help Terry’s, by color-coding all of the machines based on precincts where they were to be delivered.

As for other issues, such as machines having broken seals, Jones says that happens every election cycle.

“So with all that confusion, we have gotten everything where it’s supposed to be. That election Tuesday will go off without a hitch. Everybody knows what they are doing, and we’ve done what we had to do from not only the election commission standpoint but from the county administrative office to make sure everything is good.”

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