County leaders at odds over who will deliver election machines this November

Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 5:14 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Another battle is brewing over who will deliver Hinds County’s election machines in November.

This time, members of the Hinds County Election Commission are at odds with the county administrator, who says he wants to move the delivery service in-house.

County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones spoke to commissioners at its meeting Thursday. He said the decision was being made to help cut costs and pointed to the fact that the commission was $50,000 over budget for the year.

“We’ve started bringing in a whole lot of entities and their operations that we were probably be paying for, because of budgetary constraints,” he said.

Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones discusses plans to take election machine deliveries in-house.
Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones discusses plans to take election machine deliveries in-house.(WLBT)

Commissioners, though, questioned whether Jones had the authority to take over the service without consulting the board of supervisors. They also questioned whether county workers had the training they needed to do the work.

In all, machines have to be delivered to 108 precincts each Election Day. The machines have to be calibrated prior to the election and sometimes must be re-calibrated after being delivered.

The commission typically relies on Kenny Williams, owner of Professionals on Wheels, to make the deliveries, in part, because he also calibrates the machines for their manufacturer.

Members say they’re going to speak to the board Monday to seek clarification on the matter.

“We were told today in the meeting it was not a decision the board of supervisors would make, only [that] the county administrator had the authority and the approval to do so,” District 3 Commissioner Jermal Clark said. “So we just want to get clarity.”

“We also want to know if this is just for elections or if it’s for every other division in Hinds County,” said District 5 Commissioner Shirley Varnado, the commission chair.

As for the budget shortfall, Clark said the commission’s budget was cut this year, and that the county did not anticipate a runoff election. He said election officials be seeking a budget increase for the 2023 fiscal year, which begins on October 1.

Jones told WLBT in June the county would be taking over deliveries after the firm hired to deliver machines for the June 28 Republican Party runoffs had to abruptly stop because the county failed to get two bids for the work.

“Any time I don’t have the proper paperwork, I’m going to stop whatever I need to stop until Hinds County gets the proper procurement in place,” Jones said at the time. “That’s with the election commission or anybody else that deals with Hinds County.”

Purchasing law requires the county to receive at least two bids for certain projects before a contractor can be hired.

Jones said Professionals on Wheels was allowed to resume work after a second bid was obtained.

“We won’t have to deal with this again because the function of getting the machines out (to) the precincts will come under Hinds County jurisdiction,” he said. “We’re going to have our employees take them where they’re going. That way, we won’t have to worry about having a P.O.”

Controversy also surrounded the delivery of voting equipment last November, after commissioners questioned why the county brought on a new firm to deliver equipment in lieu of Professionals on Wheels, the more experienced vendor.

District 1 Commissioner Kidada Brown said she was wary of the administrator’s plans, saying she didn’t want a repeat of what happened last year.

(One machine was damaged, another one had the seal broken on it and others were delivered to the wrong location, prompting the county to rehire Professionals on Wheels.)

“We just want to make sure everything is done right, properly and in a timely fashion, so it won’t come back and say it looks like us,” she said.

“That’s why we’re starting now,” Jones said. “So, we’ve got the list, we’ve got the active list (of precincts), and we’ve already started going to the locations to make ourselves familiar with them.”

“We’ve got to sit down with you all, at some point, to get your input on the little things we need to look out for, what we need to be doing...” he said.

“Hold on a minute, has this been voted on and approved by the board of supervisors?” Varnado asked.

“This is a Hinds County administrative issue. They don’t have to vote on it, because we’re not spending any money,” Jones said. “If we had to spend some money with this, they would have to vote on this.”

“Does that mean this policy will be in place for all other divisions in Hinds County?” Varnado followed up.

“There’s a lot of things in Hinds County we’re bringing in-house, not just this,” he said. “Because of budgetary constraints, budgetary concerns, we’re bringing a whole lot of things we can do inside...”

Varnado asked for examples, and Jones responded, saying some employees were being trained to take on other duties, such as building maintenance.

“Taking out carpet, plumbing, all of that... all of that is being brought back inside instead of going out and paying money to contractors to do it,” he said.

Varnado also asked whether the circuit clerk had been notified of the changes.

“I already told the clerks and what we were going to do, and it comes up under the county, so everybody’s pretty much on board and knows what we’re doing because it’s going to save us a lot of money,” Jones said. “We just need your input to make sure that everything is done without a lot of hiccups.”

Circuit Clerk Zach Wallace said he had not been contacted by the administrator’s office, and said that any decisions regarding the voting machines would have to be approved by the board of supervisors. He couldn’t comment further, saying that he was still gathering details following Thursday’s meeting.

For his part, District 2 Supervisor David Archie called in and invited commissioners to come and speak to the board of supervisors Monday to put the issue before them.

“He just does not have the authority to do what he stated,” Archie said. “That is just certainly not true.”

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