Shelby County commissioners approve purchase of new voting machines for November election

Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 11:00 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2022 at 6:17 AM CDT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - After years of often heated debate, the Shelby County Commission approved a multi-million dollar plan to buy new voting machines at their meeting Monday.

Shelby County commissioners debated this issue for about four hours, going against what public speakers and the Shelby County Election Commission wanted.

County commissioners say they wanted more time for voters to get comfortable with the new voting equipment so they voted for new machines to be implemented for the November 2022 election.

Shelby County Commissioners voted 9-4 to approve nearly $6 million for new voting machines and scanners, but they won’t be put to use in time for the county general and state/federal primary election in August. The county says about $2.4 million of that money will be reimbursed by the state.

Putting in new machines has been a contentious topic for commissioners and the Shelby County Election Commission.

Election Administrator Linda Phillips says the county is in dire need of new voting equipment now.

“It’s not ideal, I grant you that but it’s better than having my server fail on election night in August,” said Phillips.

Some Election Commission members like Bennie Smith say they had not been presented with the issue until recently.

“It would be unconscionable to think that with the average voter being 60-year-old and more to stick a brand-new machine in front of them, rip their precincts up, change all of their voting information and think that you’re going to have a clean election,” said Smith.

County commissioners went back and forth between different versions of a solution that would include hand-marked paper ballots like several public speakers and a few commissioners wanted.

After Monday’s vote, Phillips released this statement:

“Arriving at this point has been a complex and sometimes contentious process, but in the end, we believe tonight’s Shelby County Commission decision allowed voters to prevail. When using the new machines, voters can choose between Voter Marked Paper Ballots and Ballot Marking Devices (digital ballots), and those options will now be in place for the November 2022 election.”

The election commission’s lawsuit against the Shelby County Commission is still in play.

There is no word on the future of that suit as of Monday.

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