Assessment of Decision 2022 and what’s needed for Shelby County going forward

Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 10:56 PM CST

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County government has invested $6 million in new voting equipment this year, but more spending is needed to protect the ballots.

The head of the Shelby County Election Commission said the new machines and software performed extremely well in their inaugural use during Tuesday’s Midterm Election.

The new voting equipment relies heavily on paper ballots regardless of whether you vote using the machine or if you choose to fill out a hand-marked paper ballot.

In case those ballots are ever needed for a recount or audit, Shelby County needs a safe, fireproof place to store them.

Tuesday night after the votes were counted, Shelby County Elections Administrator Linda Phillips gave the county’s new voting machines and tabulation software two thumbs up.

“The equipment has performed pretty flawlessly,” she said. “We do have some issues where we need to improve training, but we expected that, you know.”

The only major issue in the Midterm election? 50 people received bad ballots during early voting at Berclair Baptist Church on Summer Avenue.

The District 9 race (U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s race) was listed on the ballot instead of District 8 (U.S. Rep. David Kustoff’s race.)

A source at the election commission told Action News 5 a voter realized the mistake and brought it to poll workers’ attention.

Phillips said the people who cast votes in the wrong race were not notified.

“Once a voter is separated from their ballot,” she said, “there’s absolutely nothing you can do to correct the error, because you have no idea which ballot belongs to which voter.”

Action News 5 Political Analyst Michael Nelson said he’s impressed with the rollout and his first experience with the voting equipment proved trouble-free.

“It’s always a transition when you inaugurate a new system,” he said. “In some ways, I think it’s remarkable that only 50 voters had that kind of experience out of couple hundred thousand who actually cast their ballots. My experience was the people who work there were enormously helpful.”

An estimated 202,000 Shelby County voters performed their civic duty on Election Day. With 588,508 registered voters in Memphis and Shelby County, that’s a voter turnout of 34% — which turns out, isn’t so bad.

”I am very proud of the effort Shelby County has made in turning out the vote,” said Ian Randolph with Shelby County Voter Alliance. “Throughout this year, Shelby County has had the highest voter turnout in Tennessee.”

The county went with a new ES&S voting system, which purposely uses paper ballots so there’s a record of your vote. Protecting those ballots is now a priority.

“Part of the closing process at the poll,” Phillips said, “is that a bipartisan team removes those ballot boxes from the machines and they seal them and lock them and fill out paperwork. And then, they come here where they are stored in a sealed location, a secure location where they are available for a recount or an audit.”

But Phillips said the Shelby County Election Operations Center in East Memphis doesn’t have a fire suppression system or a flame retardant storage facility.

One final step is now needed to make sure Shelby County’s election system is safe and secure.

Phillips said she has about $2 million available in her budget to upgrade the building in order to protect those paper ballots.

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