Hinds Co. Election Commissioners dispute concerns over keys, election machines

Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 5:45 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Hinds County election commissioners are responding to concerns raised about election integrity at Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting.

At its first September meeting on Tuesday, Supervisor David Archie questioned why a private company had keys to the election commission’s offices, saying that they could have tampered with the devices.

County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones, meanwhile, questioned reports about broken machines, saying none of the machines were broken when they were recently inspected by county employees.

The concerns were some of several raised regarding the recent primaries in Hinds County, in which voters swept three incumbent supervisors out of office.

District 5 Election Commissioner Shirley Varnado said an ES&S official was given a key back in July, so they wouldn’t have to work in the heat.

“It was too hot to work during regular hours, so they asked if they could work from 11 to 7, and we as a commission agreed that they could,” she said. “And she asked, and I gave her my keys.”

ES&S is the company that maintains the county’s voting machines. Crews with the company were preparing them for the August primaries.

The machines are located in a warehouse at the commission’s headquarters on Commerce Street. The offices are air-conditioned, but the warehouse is not.

Hinds County Election Commissioner Shirley Varnado
Hinds County Election Commissioner Shirley Varnado(WLBT)

Varnado said all of the company’s activities were recorded on the surveillance system there, and that the key has since been returned.

She said if the county had questions, they could have checked the surveillance system or ask commissioners.

The questions come weeks after two incumbent supervisors were ousted during a hotly contested Democratic primary. A third supervisor was defeated for re-election in a primary runoff.

Archie, who lost to Anthony Smith by a nearly two-to-one margin, has questioned the outcome and is challenging the results with the Hinds County Democratic Executive Committee.

[READ: Archie calls on Hinds Co. Democratic chair to step down, alleging fraud in party primary]

Commissioners also addressed comments about voting machine damage.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Jones said county employees inspected the voting machines after they were brought back to the commission warehouse.

“This board asked for a report from the election commission on the return of the machines. And they looked at the machines, and from my understanding, there wasn’t a problem when they got back,” he said. “Now, I’m finding out some of the machines may have been damaged after the fact.”

“When did that happen? When they came back in, they were fine. Now, we’re going to have a bill to repair something that wasn’t [broken].”

Varnado says county employees couldn’t have known the machines were broken because they were never opened during the inspection.

“If you just look at the machines when you bring them back in, you can’t tell whether or not they’re broken,” she said. “You can’t tell until they’re opened.”

District Four Commissioner Yvonne Horton said at least two machines were damaged beyond repair, with one having a cracked screen. Another machine had a jammed lock.

“They can’t say everything was there and working because they don’t know,” she said.

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