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Shelby County Commissioner says election results may be delayed due to lack of scanners

Updated: Sep. 28, 2020 at 10:44 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A vote to approve millions of dollars for new voting equipment was postponed during Monday’s Shelby County Commission meeting.

Election leaders say that decision could delay getting results for the Nov. general election by several days.

Commissioners were asked to approve nearly 6 million dollars in brand new election equipment.

Most of the money was for brand new voting machines that won’t be used until 2021, but a small portion of the bid was for new scanners.

Those scanners are needed sooner to process absentee ballots for the November election.

“We’re just going to have to prepare the community that without those scanners, it may take days for us to be able to process and tabulate all of the absentee ballots,” Shelby County Election Commissioner Brent Taylor said.

Voters could get Tuesday, Nov. 3 election results on Saturday, Nov. 7.

Election administrator Linda Phillips said in Aug. they processed 16,000 absentee ballots.

Phillips says they have already exceeded that number for the Nov. election with 22,000 requests received and that number is sure to grow since voters still have another 30 days to make a request for an absentee ballot.

Taylor says without the additional scanners it could delay counting the absentee ballots.

“That’s really disappointing, and we want to avoid that because we know that public confidence is eroded when it takes days in order to determine the winners and losers in an election,” Taylor said.

However, some commissioners felt rushed to make such a big purchase.

The request to approve funding for the new voting equipment wasn’t presented to commissioners until last week during the committee meeting.

However, the bid and vendor was approved in May by the election commission.

Commissioners voted to take another two weeks to decide if they’re making the right move.

“I think it’s fine for the commission to not have to rush into a 6 million dollar decision that will lock us in for the next 20 years on hackable, glitchy over-priced machines,” attorney and election law expert Steve Mulroy said.

Mulroy and Shelby County Election commissioner Bennie Smith want the Shelby County Commission to consider entirely new machines.

Mulroy argues that the new touch screen voting machines run a security risk and commissioners should consider hand-marked paper ballots.

Phillips and Taylor say the new machines are not connected to the internet and therefore not hackable.

With commissioners delaying the vote, Taylor says it will be too late to get the new scanners in time for the Nov. election.

“Even if it does, it’s more important to get it right than to get it quick,” Mulroy said.

The Shelby County Commission passed a resolution in April stating they preferred paper ballots.

Election commissioners compromised by choosing a vendor that gave voters an option to choose touch screen or paper ballots.

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