Connection between Shelby County Elections administrator, voting machine company under scrutiny

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – 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.”

Sugarmon said Phillips’ connection to bidding companies wasn’t properly disclosed. But Phillips and the Commission says they were disclosed to an ethics officer.

“It’s completely fictitious,” Phillips said. “I have never worked for any of the election company vendors. I did work, at one point, work for a company–that has since gone out of business–that did provide some services to Shelby County. But I sought an opinion from the ethics officer, and she saw there was no conflict of interest.”

Sugarmon says the rush for recommending a vendor without all the bids being made public is another reason for worry.

“Linda Phillips could have signed a letter of intent. Then that would open up the books, or the bid rather, then we could see the costs, the types of voting machines and so on and so forth,” Sugarmon said.

“Again, I was one of five votes. I don’t make these decisions unilaterally. The vendor that was selected was the top choice of six people on the scoring team,” Phillips said.

Election commission member Brent Taylor says state law set the process.

“I didn’t like the process,” Taylor said. “I didn’t take an easy no. We held it up several weeks trying to find a better way. Unfortunately, state law did not allow for a different path.”

As for the conflict of interest by Phillips, Taylor said it doesn’t exist.

“We determined along with our attorneys there was no conflict of interest that exists with Ms. Phillips and the potential purchase of these voting machines,” Taylor said.

“We want an audit, a financial and process audit of the Shelby County Election Commission and this administrator,” Sugarmon said. “They have wasted millions and millions of taxpayers’ dollars.”

 WREG has also learned Mayor Lee Harris has signed that letter of intent, and it’s headed to the county commission, which means the public will finally get to see the bid.

Election commissioner Brent Taylor says the system they chose will allow for both paper and computer ballots, but he isn’t sure if it will be in place for the 2020 elections.

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