Tennessee: Dispute Over Shelby County Election Machines Remains Unsettled | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

The tug-of-war between Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips and the adherents of paper-ballot voting over the purchase of new election machines continues apace. The most recent development, detailed in a November 18th Flyer article, involved the administrator’s purchase of three new ballot-marking devices for the ongoing runoff elections in Collierville.  The machines are manufactured by the ES&S Company and are of a type previously preferred by a 4-1 vote of the Shelby County Election Commission but rejected for funding by the Shelby County Commision, which, in the interests of transparency, had established its own preference for handmarked paper-ballot devices in several prior votes. The funding source for the three machines had been — publicly, at least — something of a mystery. According to SCEC sources, the machines were paid for by the office of the Secretary of State in Nashville  The purchase of the machines had been revealed last week in a formal SCEC press release, which contended that there had been no alternative to acquiring them, inasmuch as the old machines used by Collierville in the city’s first round of elections earlier this month were tied up, pending certification this week of the November 3rd results.

Full Article: Dispute Over Election Machines Remains Unsettled | Politics Beat Blog


Tennessee: Half of all registered voters have already cast early ballots | Mariah Timms/Nashville Tennessean

More Tennesseans have early voted this year than in any previous presidential contest. After 14 days of early voting across the state, 2,070,339 Tennesseans have voted in person, and another 210,428 have already submitted their by-mail/absentee ballots. That total of 2,280,767 early and absentee votes so far means more than half, or 51%, of the state’s registered voters have already cast a ballot. And that’s nearly as many as voted overall four years ago. “These record numbers demonstrate voter confidence in the hard work of election officials across the state,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in a statement. “County election commissions across the state have worked diligently to administer a safe, sensible and responsible election during early voting and we will see the same thing on Election Day.”

Full Article: Half of all registered Tennessee voters have already cast early ballots

Tennessee: Shelby County election officials get eight new ballot scanners for absentee vote count | Bill Dries/Daily Memphian

The Shelby County Election Commission is getting eight new ballot scanners to assist in counting the large number of absentee ballots being cast locally in the presidential general election. The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office is providing a share of its federal CARES Act funding for the election hardware and technology, aimed at shortening what could be a long vote count election night following what could be a record overall turnout. Secretary of State Tre Hargett Tuesday, Oct. 27, confirmed to The Daily Memphian the arrangement worked out with the local election commission using federal CARES Act funding. “Shelby County had expressed the need for scanners to handle the larger-than-normal absentee ballot turnout,” Hargett said. “We have gone back to counties and said, ‘Look, if there is a need that you have at this time, there is CARES Act funding remaining.’ ” The Secretary of State’s office approved $47,800 specifically for elections to allow the Shelby County Election Commission to buy the scanners.

Full Article: Election officials get eight new ballot scanners for absentee vote count – Memphis Local, Sports, Business & Food News | Daily Memphian

Tennessee: Shelby County Commission rejects contract for voting system | Bill Dries/Daily Memphian

A $5.8 million contract for a new voting system in Shelby County fell one vote short of the seven needed from the Shelby County County Commission Monday, Oct. 12, in a move that critics say could delay the local vote count in the upcoming presidential election. While the election system wouldn’t have been used until the 2022 elections, the Election Commission sought approval to buy the system in order to have ballot scanners to process an expected increase in absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election in less than a month. Ultimately, however, county commissioners had too many problems with a call by the Election Commission to approve the entire contract or nothing at all. Commissioners, therefore, voted down the system 6-5.Commissioners also expressed reservations about changes in the bid terms for the number of scanners before the Election Commission approved the contract with ES&S LLC of Omaha, Nebraska, and sent it to the County Commission. Election Commission administrators increased the number of ballot scanners, upping the dollar amount of the contract by $1.1 million after realizing none of the firms bidding for the contract realized that by state law, such scanners can only process a maximum of 9,999 ballots each in an election night count.

Tennessee: State shifts position on COVID-19 and absentee voting in arguments before Tennessee Supreme Court | Mariah Timms and Joel Ebert/Nashville Tennessean

The question of expanding absentee voting in Tennessee reached the state’s highest court Thursday as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case. It comes on the last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot for the Aug. 6 primary, although officials have urged voters to act early as post office delivery times increase. An absentee ballot must be in the hands of officials by close of business on election day to count, and they must be submitted by mail. At issue is whether concern over the spread of COVID-19 is a valid excuse to receive an absentee ballot. A lower court ruled that it was and any registered voter could apply to receive a mail-in ballot. As a result, county election commissions have reported record numbers of applications. But the state appealed the decision, and the high court took the case directly. Its ruling will be an “incredibly important case for all Tennesseans,” Chief Justice Jeff Bivins said.

Tennessee: Lawmakers voice opposition to delaying the election | Scripps Media

On Thursday, President Trump floated the idea of delaying the November election. It is something that has never happened in the United States. He cited his continued claims that the election will be inaccurate with the use of mail-in voting. The President does not have the authority to delay an election, rather the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the date for voting. Many lawmakers from both parties very quickly said the likelihood an election would be delayed is very low. Senator Marsha Blackburn responded to the President’s idea during an interview on Fox News Thursday. Senator Marsha Blackburn: “I served on the election committee in my county in the late 80s; so I know that our local election commissions do everything they can possibly do to make sure these elections are fair. The elections are set. They’re going to take place and I don’t think you’re going to see them stopped. Other Tennessee representatives and senators took to social media to express their disapproval.

Tennessee: Lawmakers voice opposition to delaying the election | Scripps Media

On Thursday, President Trump floated the idea of delaying the November election. It is something that has never happened in the United States. He cited his continued claims that the election will be inaccurate with the use of mail-in voting. The President does not have the authority to delay an election, rather the Constitution gives Congress the power to set the date for voting. Many lawmakers from both parties very quickly said the likelihood an election would be delayed is very low. Senator Marsha Blackburn responded to the President’s idea during an interview on Fox News Thursday. Senator Marsha Blackburn: “I served on the election committee in my county in the late 80s; so I know that our local election commissions do everything they can possibly do to make sure these elections are fair. The elections are set. They’re going to take place and I don’t think you’re going to see them stopped. Other Tennessee representatives and senators took to social media to express their disapproval.

Tennessee: Secretary of State’s opposition to COVID-19 absentee ballots called ‘pitiful’ during US Senate hearing | Natalie Allison/Nashville Tennessean

Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Wednesday spoke before a U.S. Senate committee regarding Tennessee’s preparations for upcoming elections, a hearing that became heated as multiple members grilled him on the state’s resistance to expanding absentee voting due to the coronavirus. Hargett, who appeared by video before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, discussed Tennessee’s use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover the costs of necessary measures to make in-person voting safer this August and November, as well as buying additional ballot-scanning equipment and absentee envelopes. He reported that after traveling to 10 Tennessee counties last weekend after early voting began Friday ahead of the Aug. 6 primary, Hargett observed that voters and poll workers all appeared to be following new protocols put in place by the state. “Without fail, every person said, ‘I feel very safe coming to vote,’ ” Hargett said. But later in the hearing, multiple senators pushed back on Tennessee’s ongoing fight against a state judge’s order last month that Tennessee must expand mail voting due to the threat of contracting coronavirus at the voting booth.

Tennessee: State: All counties all have updated mail voting info | Associated Press

Tennessee’s elections coordinator says all 95 counties have updated their websites or written materials to reflect a judge’s ruling that every eligible voter can choose to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. Elections Coordinator Mark Goins confirmed the updates by counties Wednesday in a court filing ordered by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle. That includes updated written materials from 12 counties without election commission websites. Last month, Lyle ordered Goins to tell counties to update their information after plaintiffs attorneys named 20 counties with absentee request forms or other website mentions that didn’t correctly reference COVID-19 as a reason to vote absentee. Those 20 counties displayed updated websites shortly after. Earlier this week, Lyle ordered an update from Goins, saying it was “still unknown” whether counties were complying.

Tennessee: Some first-time voters can’t cast absentee ballot | Jonathan Matisse/Associated Press

Tennessee officials say they plan to enforce a requirement that first-time voters who register by mail cast their ballots in person, despite a judge’s ruling that allows all eligible voters to cast absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic. The state attorney general’s office provided the interpretation in response to a separate federal lawsuit that seeks to block the in-person requirement and two other absentee voting laws before the Aug. 6 primary election. In early June, a state court judge in Nashville ordered the expansion for all eligible voters during the pandemic. But her instructions did not directly address the first-time voter requirement. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sought to block the in-person requirement in a mid-June court filing, saying it’s unclear if the judge’s order allows that group to vote by mail. The requirement also applies to forms collected during voter registration drives and registrations collected at offices that provide public assistance and services to persons with disabilities, plaintiffs attorneys added.

Tennessee: State Supreme Court keeps mail voting expansion amid appeal | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that it will not block a judge’s order offering a by-mail voting option to all eligible voters during the coronavirus pandemic while the state continues to appeal. The Tennessee high court did agree with the state’s wish to fast-track the appeal without a lower appellate court considering it. But a majority of justices voted against stopping the absentee voting expansion pending appeal, dealing a blow to the state’s efforts to unravel the expansion as the Aug. 6 primary approaches. Voters are able to apply for absentee ballots through July 30. The primary election will be headlined by a contested Republican race for an open U.S. Senate seat. State election officials have opposed the expansion, instead recommending preparations as though all 1.4 million registered voters 60 and older will cast mail-in ballots in the primary. Historically, Tennessee has historically seen less than 2.5% of votes cast by mail, the state has said.

Tennessee: Judge: ‘Shame’ on state for shirking mail voting order | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

A judge on Thursday said “shame on you” to state officials for not abiding by her order that allows a vote-by-mail option for all of Tennessee’s 4.1 million voters during the coronavirus pandemic, saying she now had “to clean up confusion” from the state’s decision to reword its absentee voting applications on its own. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ordered changes to the absentee form but stopped short of ordering sanctions against the state for not complying, citing tough budget times for the state during the pandemic. But she warned “there always is the specter of criminal contempt if after today’s orders there’s still noncompliance and there’s disobedience.” “Shame on you for not following that procedure and just taking matters into your own hands,” Lyle said at Thursday’s hearing. “So, I’m calling the state out on that, for not adhering to the standards of legal process, and not adhering to the order.” Only a handful of states are not offering by-mail voting for everyone during the pandemic, though two-thirds of states allowed the practice before the outbreak.

Tennessee: State, Groups Clash Over Compliance in Vote-By-Mail Ruling | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

Attorneys for voting rights groups want Tennessee officials held in contempt of court over claims they have not immediately let all Tennessee voters get ballots to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic as ordered. The state, in turn, has contended it is complying and the groups are citing out-dated instructions for local election officials. That fight over whether Tennessee officials are meeting their obligations on the court-ordered absentee voting option for all 4.1 million of Tennessee’s registered voters is headed for a hearing Thursday in Nashville. At the same time, the state is also fighting to have the expansion blocked on appeal. In a Davidson County Chancery Court filing Monday night, plaintiffs attorneys wrote that the judge didn’t order the state to create a new form with a COVID-19 option, though it still did. The judge’s ruling directed voters to select an existing illness and disability box. The new option says, “I have determined it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person due to the COVID-19 situation, and therefore qualify as hospitalized, ill, or disabled and unable to appear at my polling place.” The filing points out there’s no explanation of what constitutes “impossible or unreasonable.”

Tennessee: State election coordinator: Don’t send forms yet for expanded voting | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

Tennessee’s election coordinator told his local counterparts Friday not to send absentee voting applications to some Tennesseans just yet, guidance issued the day after a court ordered that all 4.1 million registered voters can vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. In his email, Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told local election officials not to send the applications for people citing illness or COVID-19 as a reason. He wrote that the state may be revising its application form and that it will ask an appeals court to block the expansion to allow all voters to cast ballots by mail during the pandemic. Those seeking to vote by mail for other valid reasons, including all voters 60 or older, can still be sent applications, Goins wrote. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s ruling late Thursday instructs that anyone who “determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person at a polling place due to the COVID-19 situation” is eligible to check a box on the absentee ballot application about “being hospitalized, ill or physically disabled.” Officials began accepting applications to vote by mail last month for the upcoming Aug. 6 primary election in Tennessee.

Tennessee: Judge: Tennessee must allow vote by mail for all amid virus | John Mattise/Associated Press

Tennessee must give all of its 4.1 million registered voters the option to cast ballots by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, a judge ruled Thursday. Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled that the state’s limits on absentee voting during the pandemic constitute “an unreasonable burden on the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.” The decision upends a determination by Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office that fear of catching or unwittingly spreading the virus at the polls wouldn’t qualify someone to vote by mail. The state argued such an expansion wouldn’t be feasible for the 2020 elections, claiming lack of money, personnel and equipment for increased voting by mail, among other concerns. The ruling is likely to be appealed.

Tennessee: Judge: Virus mail voting guidelines ambiguous | Jonathan Mattise/Associated Press

A Tennessee judge on Wednesday said the state’s guidance about who can vote by mail due to the coronavirus is “very ambiguous,” and she cited “weighty proof” that other states have expanded to let all voters cast absentee ballots this year — something Tennessee officials say is not feasible. In a hearing via video conference due to the pandemic, Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle cast doubts on some of the state’s key arguments against two lawsuits that seek a by-mail voting option for all voters this year to curb the virus’ spread at the polls. Lyle also cautioned that whatever she orders needs to be “a practical, workable solution, or it will throw the election into chaos.” She raised particular concerns about costs for local governments. The judge plans to rule Thursday on whether to issue a temporary injunction to allow all voters to request absentee ballots in the Aug. 6 primary. A similar federal lawsuit is also pending. At one point, she cited a section of the state Constitution that says the right to vote “shall never be denied” to any person entitled to do so. “When I read that, it really resonated with me that what you’re saying is, ‘It’s better to deny the injunction even if the result is that people don’t vote,’” Lyle said. “That’s what you’re saying, that they don’t get to access that fundamental right that we all treasure under the Tennessee Constitution.”

Tennessee: Secretary of State holding on to $55M for projects besides universal absentee voting | Sam Stockard/The Daily Memphian

The Secretary of State’s Office is sitting on $55 million, but it won’t be putting it toward universal absentee balloting, a policy neither Secretary Tre Hargett nor Gov. Bill Lee support. Through the CARES Act, the office has $9.58 million to deal with coronavirus issues and has put together a plan to cope with COVID-19 during the August and November elections. Most of the plan focuses on sanitary measures, social distancing, screening of poll workers and absentee balloting for anyone 60 and older. The state received $7.98 million from the federal CARES Act and put in another $1.6 million of its own money for a COVID plan. “We are spending every penny of those funds to administer the August and November elections,” Secretary of State spokeswoman Julia Bruck said. The state also has $10.2 million from earlier in the year and $35.4 million left from other federal grants intended for other investments but could be used for pandemic-related needs, according to Think Tennessee, a nonprofit think tank. Yet while Think Tennessee, Democratic lawmakers and a majority of Tennesseans believe the state should take steps to avoid voting crowds during the pandemic, the state balks at the idea.

Tennessee: In Midst of COVID-19 Pandemic, Plaintiff Sues to Challenge Tennessee’s Vote-By-Mail Procedures | Junaid Odubeko, Mike Stephens, Richard W.F. Swor/Bradley

Heading into this year, 2020 was set to be one of the most interesting and consequential elections in recent history. However, the 2020 election cycle has been upended by the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Voters standing in line close to each other, handling ballots, and using touchscreens could make for a dangerous environment for transmission of the virus. Election officials and policymakers are giving full attention to mitigation strategies, including voting by mail. In Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett have announced their intention to hold the August election like any other year, rebuffing the expansion of absentee or mail-in voting. Currently, a voter can only receive an absentee ballot if they fall in one of the enumerated categories in Tennessee Code § 2-6-201. These nine categories include people who are living outside of the county, people observing a religious holiday, and people who are over the age of 65 or are unable to appear at their polling place because they are hospitalized, ill, or disabled.

Tennessee: Connection between Shelby County Elections administrator and ES&S under scrutiny | April Thompson/WREG

WREG has learned there is a lot of controversy surrounding the company providing new voting machines for the county and the Shelby County Elections administrator. WREG has confirmed with an election commissioner the company is ES & S, the same company that commission and election administrator Linda Phillips recommended. Phillips says the new machines are desperately needed. “Our current scanners are very, very old,” Phillips said. “Our new election system has new modern updated scanners. But I am becoming increasingly concerned we will not get those in time to do the August election. The hold up, the Letter of Intent for the new equipment hadn’t been approved by the County Mayor.” A group of concerned citizens have raised the issue about the purchase and about Phillips. Erika Sugarmon among them. “It’s an appearance of conflict of interest. Because once these contracts are executed then one or two of her children has appointment with these companies,” Sugarmon said. “And the company ‘Everyone Counts’ for example, she worked there prior to coming to the Shelby County Election Commission.”

Tennessee: ACLU files suit against Tennessee urging mail-in ballots for all voters in 2020 elections | Mariah Timms/Nashville Tennessean

Tennessee may need to make absentee voting available to all eligible voters by the August primary election, if a lawsuit filed Friday against the state is successful. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee filed the suit on behalf of several residents who believe their health conditions would make voting during the COVID-19 pandemic a threat to their safety. Currently, eligible voters must provide a qualifying excuse as to why they need to vote by mail, the ACLU said. The suit pushes the state to expand those requirements and allow all eligible voters to vote by absentee ballot. “No one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote. Tennessee can simultaneously keep the public safe and protect democracy, but is refusing to do so. Eliminating the excuse requirement during COVID-19 is a common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote, which is why many other states have already made vote by mail and absentee voting available,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a release. Fear of contracting the coronavirus doesn’t meet the criteria to vote by mail due to illness in Tennessee, state officials said Tuesday. Even so, officials recommended preparing as though all 1.4 million registered voters who are at least 60 will cast ballots by mail in the August primary election.

Tennessee: Welcome to the Machine: Fight Over Shelby County Voting System Raises Issues of Integrity and Nepotism | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

Are the citizens of Memphis and Shelby County — troubled with decades of problematic and even botched election results — really about to acquire a new, improved means of expressing their will in the forthcoming August and November election rounds? That question may be answered this week, as the Shelby County Commission decides whether to accept or overrule the judgment last week of Election Administrator Linda Phillips and the Shelby County Election Commission (SCEC) — apparently in favor of ballot-marking devices marketed by the ES&S Company, a monolith of the election-machine industry. The name of the chosen manufacturer was not explicitly revealed last week — “Company 1,” was how it was called in discussion — but several references by Phillips to the “thermal paper” uniquely employed by ES&S for production of machine receipts, were something of a giveaway. The Shelby County Commission, which has the responsibility of paying for the machines (or not), had voted twice previously in favor of hand-marked ballots instead, on several grounds, including cost, transparency, and invulnerability to ballot-hacking. And an aroused contingent of local activists, abetted by a network of nationally known election adepts, is prepared to insist on that choice.

Tennessee: State election official: Fear of virus not reason to vote by mail | Jonathan Mattise/The Associated Press

Fear of contracting the coronavirus doesn’t meet the criteria to vote by mail due to illness in Tennessee, state officials said Tuesday, as they recommended preparing as though all 1.4 million registered voters who are at least 60 will cast ballots by mail in the August primary election. “In consultation with the Attorney General’s office the fear of getting ill does not fall under the definition of ill,” Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins told The Associated Press in a statement Tuesday. The guidance comes after the release of Tennessee’s COVID-19 election contingency plan, which was prepared by the state Division of Elections, dated April 23, and provided this week to the AP. The plan doesn’t contemplate a shift to allow all voters to cast ballots by mail due to fears of contracting or unknowingly spreading COVID-19 at the polls. Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett has contended that would be a huge change in a short time frame for a state accustomed to voting in person. The GOP-led Legislature this year also brushed aside attempts to expand absentee voting in the midst of a pandemic. Several states, including Tennessee, have faced lawsuits to expand absentee voting.

Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission approves new voting system | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

Shelby County election commissioners approved a new voting system for Shelby County Thursday night, May 7, that will include machines with a paper audit trail. The 4-1 vote came at the end of a 4.5-hour special meeting that all five election commissioners attended in person at their operations center at Shelby County, along with staff, as an online audience watched and commented. On the advice of its attorneys, the election commission did not disclose the name of the vendor or the cost of their proposal. The attorneys and county purchasing officials said the commission couldn’t disclose any of the information until after it made its decision and a formal letter of intent was issued. It was one of three proposals made in the formal “request for proposal” process and the one that county elections administrator Linda Phillips recommended. The decision goes next to the Shelby County Commission, which will vote on appropriating the funding necessary to buy the machines. That is when the details of the proposal, including the name of the company and the price as well as the offers of competitors, are to become public. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has questioned whether the secrecy surrounding what the election commission voted on is a violation of the state’s open meetings law.

Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission meets Thursday on new voting system | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

Shelby County Election Commissioners will meet Thursday, May 7, online to discuss and possibly select a new voting system for the county. The 5 p.m. meeting will be via Webinar despite calls by several election commissioners at their last meeting, April 23, to have an in-person meeting with social distancing precautions instead of online. The election commission has fielded several proposals from vendors in a request for proposal — or RFP — process. But the election commission has not disclosed those proposals or the proposed costs of the systems, saying they cannot until they make a selection. Commissioners reviewed the proposals at a closed April 23 meeting before a public session. The plan is for commissioners to discuss in public the different proposals without identifying the vendors or discussing the price and then voting in public.

Tennessee: Groups sue to expand absentee voting amid COVID-19 pandemic | Adam Tamburin/Nashville Tennessean

A coalition of Tennessee nonprofits sued the state Friday in an effort to expand access to absentee voting and mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tennessee’s limits on voting by mail force voters to “choose between risking their health by voting in person, or forgoing their right to vote entirely,” the federal lawsuit stated. “Tennessee voters must be permitted to cast their ballots without subjecting themselves to unnecessary exposure to a pandemic disease.” In Tennessee, absentee voting is mostly limited to people who are sick, disabled, traveling, or 60 or older. The plaintiffs called on a judge to ease absentee voting restrictions, which they called unconstitutional. The lawsuit also challenged laws that can disqualify some absentee ballots and limit groups’ abilities to help people get mail-in ballots.

Tennessee: Shelby County Election Commission Attorney Shares Office with ES&S Lobbyist | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

In advance of a scheduled meeting Thursday afternoon at which county Election Administrator Linda Phillips is expected to reveal her preference for a vendor of new election machines for Shelby County, proponents of hand-marked voting devices expressed alarm over a potential link between an Election Commission lawyer and one of the vendors bidding on the county contract. The ES&S company, vendor of the controversial Diebold election machines now in use county elections and known to be a bidder for the contract on behalf of a line of devices that mark ballots by mechanical means, is represented by the lobbying firm of MNA Government Relations, which leases space in its Nashville office to the Memphis-Nashville law firm of Harris-Shelton. Both John Ryder and Pablo Varela, attorneys for the Election Commission, are principals of the law firm, and Ryder’s name appears in tandem with that of MNA on the interactive glass register in the lobby of Nashville’s Bank of America Building. Upstairs on the 10th floor, a metal plaque outside the office door of MNA lists the two companies together, with the company name of MNA followed by a forward slash and then the name of the law firm. [See photos.]

Tennessee: Path to new voting machines for Shelby County still complex, secretive | Bill Dries/The Daily Memphian

The route to choosing new voting machines in Shelby County remains complex and secretive. The latest scenario would obscure key details of the bids from the companies that want the contract with county government before the Shelby County Election Commission makes its decision. That includes the price the county would pay. County purchasing officials have said the proposals the commission will consider cannot be made public until the commission decides and Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris signs a letter of intent with that company. In other words, the details of the proposal and the cost in taxpayer dollars cannot be made public until after the decision is made by the advice of attorneys to the five-member board. Election Commissioner Brent Taylor says attorneys for the election commission agree that state law forbids making the details public. But Taylor says the panel may be able to discuss details in public short of the prices by not naming the companies. “I don’t particularly like that, but I’ve become convinced that state law does not allow the release of that information prior to the mayor signing that letter,” Taylor said on The Daily Memphian Politics podcast.

Tennessee: Election Commission Hears from Public, Will Delay Vote on New Shelby County Voting Machines | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

The outlook for proposed new voting machines looks more muddled than ever after a virtual telemeeting of the Shelby County Election Commission (SCEC) Wednesday that was marred by the frequently indistinct audio transmission. But numerous testimonies from participating citizens were noted, most of them being read into the record from written statements supplied to the SCEC. The great majority of comments were in favor of equipment allowing hand-marked paper ballots, with arguments ranging from cost savings to transparency to an alleged greater safety factor relative to touch-screen alternatives during the coronavirus pandemic. The roster of citizens calling in or contributing statements ranged far and wide and included sitting public officials and a bevy of well-known activists. Originally, the five election commissioners were scheduled to vote Wednesday on a recommendation by Election Administrator Linda Phillips of a specific machine vendor, but a vote was postponed to allow the meeting to substitute for a previously promised public comment meeting that had been sidetracked by the onset of the epidemic.

Tennessee: Public concern over Shelby County election commission’s vote for new equipment | April Thompson/WREG

There is growing concern over how much input the public will have on the Shelby County Election Commission’s decision to buy new equipment to process paper ballots faster. Shelby County Election Administrator Linda Phillips says the county needs to be ahead of the curve and they need to be ready as the state is looking to expand paper ballot voting. “It’s very crucial that we replace our voting equipment. We have a very tight time deadline,” Phillips said. “We have to start mailing out absentee ballots for the August election in June.” However, some people fear public input on the matter will be hampered if the commission comes to a vote at its virtual meeting Wednesday. Grassroots advocate Steve Mulroy said the Shelby County Election Commission will choose from a list of proposals but the public has not had a chance to see any of them. “…They are offering us a chance to do public comments before they do their decision,” Mulroy said. “But, it won’t be informed public comment because we will be blind and won’t have any information on what they are choosing from.”

Tennessee: More Voting Machines Controversy in Shelby County | Jackson Baker/Memphis Flyer

Among the potential local casualties of the coronavirus, there is an unexpected one — the democratic process itself. At this week’s scheduled virtual meeting of the Shelby County Election Commission, the five Commissioners —three Republicans and two Democrats, in conformity with state regulations regarding majority party/minority party ratios — are primed to vote on Election Administrator Linda Phillips’ recommendations for new voting machines. Phillips has declared that the members of the Election Commission must take a definitive up-or-down vote on the vendor, whom she will recommend from among those manufacturers who responded to an RFP (request for proposal) issued earlier by the SCEC. She has declared that the decision must come now so that the machines can be in use for August voting in the county. For years, and for the last several months in particular, controversy has raged between activists who insist on voting machines that permit voter-marked ballots and advocates of machine-marked ballots. Phillips herself has expressed a preference for the latter type, equipped with paper-trail capability. By a narrow, party-line vote, the majority-Democratic Shelby County Commission, which must approve funding for the purchase, has expressed its own preference for hand-marked ballots. Given the fact that Phillips’ choice of machine type is more or less predictable, and that the cost factor will be built into the selection of vendor, that will put the County Commissioners in an awkward position of having to rubber-stamp whatever choice the SCEC passes on to them.