Fireworks erupt over who will deliver voting machines for November election
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - More fireworks, but little clarity Monday over who will deliver voting machines for the November election.
Members of the Hinds County Election Commission spoke to the board of supervisors Monday about a recent decision by the county administrator to move election machine deliveries in-house.
Previously, the service was contracted out. But after problems following the November election and June primaries, Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones said in-house maintenance workers would take over the duties.
District 1 Commissioner Kidada Brown said the administrator had no authority over elections and that the firm the commission has been using for previous elections has done a good job.
“I think Professionals on Wheels has been doing a great job delivering the machines in a timely manner, and we haven’t had any hiccups, so going forward, I feel like we should leave it where it is with Professionals on Wheels,” she said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Problems caused were not the result of Professionals on Wheels. In November, the county hired another firm to deliver the machines, but the company quit before the job was complete. Before the Republican primaries, this June, Professionals on Wheels was ordered to stop delivering machines after the county’s purchasing department failed to get two bids for the work. The company eventually picked up again, only after the county received a second bid.
In all, four commissioners spoke at Monday’s meeting: Brown, District 3 Commissioner Jermal Clark, District 4 Commissioner Yvonne Horton, and District 5 Commissioner Shirley Varnado.
Jones informed the commission of his decision last week. He told election leaders that he would be moving the deliveries in-house and that the decision did not require supervisors’ approval because the move didn’t involve spending additional money.
District 1 Supervisor Robert Graham, though, said that wasn’t the case. “This is not the county administrator’s call. If it does not involve money, that’s not of no consequence, because we deal with money and policy,” he said. “All policy issues come before the board.”
District 2 Supervisor David Archie told Jones not to go to the commissioners again without first getting the board’s approval to do so.
“Stay from down at the election commissioners’ office... You have no business down there dealing with any elections. That’s not your job, that’s not your authority,” he said. “Your job is to carry out our wishes here on this board.”
Archie and Graham also raised concerns that maintenance workers were not trained to deliver the equipment. “We’re talking about integrity, people voting, moving machines. I don’t know what y’all want to do, hook and crook,” Archie said. “I don’t know what you’re going to do. I don’t trust you.”
Graham also said maintenance workers would likely be out of commission for several days during election months just to deliver and pick up the devices.
On Election Day, machines and other devices have to be delivered to 108 precincts.
“It takes on average, five days to deliver all of the machines. And then some of the machines are delivered on Saturday and Sunday. And then you have to go back on Monday and deliver the ones you couldn’t deliver on Saturday and Sunday” Graham said. “You want to take the maintenance department and take them out of commission for seven days? And then it takes even longer to pick them up.”
For his part, Archie took Supervisor President Credell Calhoun to task for giving the administrator a directive without a majority of the board’s support.
“Credell Calhoun, if you give me three people that you talked to, in terms of doing something around this county and giving you instructions, don’t go and do it yourself,” he said. “Then we won’t have this problem.”
Jones said part of his job was to save the county money and he was directed by Calhoun to look at spending with the commission.
However, no vote had been taken by the board regarding moving the deliveries in-house. Jones told WLBT Monday afternoon that he would put an item on the agenda for the board to consider at its next meeting later this month.
“I’m doing what’s in the best interest of the county,” Jones said, “but at the end of the day, if they want a vote, they will get on in two weeks.”
He said the commission was $88,000 “in the red” in the current fiscal year and that costs related to delivering voting machines were part of the reason. for that over-spending.
“You’ve got a whole lot of projects you want to deal with, all of y’all,” he told the board. “It’s up to me to tell you where your money [is]. Now, we talked about spending $140,000 to move some machines... yeah, you can do that in-house and save some money.”
He told supervisors a previous vendor, ES&S, charged the county just $14,900 to deliver machines, while current vendors are charging around $40,000.
“And then the reason you had a disaster in November is [that] they [the commission] didn’t cooperate with who you contracted with,” he added. “That’s where the disaster came from. So when you start talking about the truth, you’re going to talk about the truth.”
Clark challenged the administrator’s claims, saying the commission’s budget this year was cut following the 2020 elections. The fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30 the following year, meaning that the 2020 elections occurred in the 2021 fiscal year.
Commissioners also said they provided Terry’s Installation, the contractor Jones was referring to, with all the information they had. That included the addresses and contacts to all precincts where machines should be delivered.
Meanwhile, Clark said expenses were higher because they did not anticipate having two Republican primary runoffs.
“You had a special election that was unexpected, and we had to spend money,” he said. “Getting back to the contract, ES&S charged the county of Hinds more than $246,000... for a long time.”
ES&S is Election Systems and Software, the manufacturer of the county’s current voting machines. It was unclear how long the county contracted with ES&S prior to Professionals on Wheels taking over and for what period Clark was referring to.
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