Commission vs. Commission

The battle between two public bodies — the freshly reconstituted Shelby County Election Commission and the Shelby County Board of Commissioners (more familiarly known as the county commission) — is shortly due for resumption over the issue of whether new voting machines for the county will be purchased, when they will be purchased, and what sort of machines they’ll be.

SCEC chair Brent Taylor

The two commissions have been at an impasse over the matter since last year when the Election Commission, having accepted bids on its R.F.P. (request for purchase), approved ballot-marking devices manufactured by the E.S. & S. Corporation. The county commission, which had twice passed resolutions in favor of hand-marked paper-ballot devices instead and which has authority over funding for such purchases, declined to make the buy.

And there the matter stood through election year 2020, with the only alteration being the acquisition by the Election Commission, from its own budget, of a few E.S. & S machines to help administer a runoff election in Collierville last fall.

On Tuesday, the Election Commission met in a reorganizational meeting and once again passed a resolution, based on its prior R.F.P., that again seeks to purchase the E.S. & S. ballot-marking machines. Last year the SCEC voted 4-1 for the machines. The vote this time was 3 -1 — three freshly reappointed Republican members —  Brent Taylor, Frank Uhlhorn, and Steve Stamson — voting aye, and one returning Democrat — Bennie Smith — voting no.

(A fifth member, incoming Democrat Kendra Lee, did not vote, inasmuch as her appointment was delayed until next week, pending official notification from the state Election Commission, which confirms local appointments, that she had resigned from the state Democratic executive committee. Members of a county election commission can not belong to any official political body — state, local, or federal.)

Taylor, who was named the new chairman of the SCEC at Monday’s meeting, said that acquisition of new machines was urgent, considering that the 2022 ballot in Shelby County will be unusually crowded, with judicial offices up for election along with strictly political offices. The Election Commission regards last year’s R.F.P. results as still valid, said Taylor, while the position of the county commission is that it is null and void and that a new R.F.P., whether issued by the Election Commission or the county commission itself, will be required.