Shelby election officials get new ballot scanners for absentee vote count

By , Daily Memphian Updated: October 28, 2020 7:24 AM CT | Published: October 27, 2020 5:28 PM CT

The Shelby County Election Commission is getting eight new ballot scanners to assist in counting the large number of absentee ballots being cast locally in the presidential general election.

The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office is providing a share of its federal CARES Act funding for the election hardware and technology, aimed at shortening what could be a long vote count election night following what could be a record overall turnout.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett Tuesday, Oct. 27, confirmed to The Daily Memphian the arrangement worked out with the local election commission using federal CARES Act funding.

Ballot Basics: Voting Absentee and Lessons from August

<strong>Secretary of State <br />Tre Hargett</strong>

Secretary of State
Tre Hargett

“Shelby County had expressed the need for scanners to handle the larger-than-normal absentee ballot turnout,” Hargett said. “We have gone back to counties and said, ‘Look, if there is a need that you have at this time, there is CARES Act funding remaining.’ ”

The Secretary of State’s office approved $47,800 specifically for elections to allow the Shelby County Election Commission to buy the scanners.

Word of the new scanners comes at the deadline to request absentee ballots and ahead of Thursday’s last day of the early-voting period as election officials intensify preparations for the vote count.

It means the election commission can move forward with a plan to count the absentee votes at FedExForum on Election Day with 100 bipartisan counting boards, each consisting of one Democrat and one Republican.

Another set of new scanners on hand for the August elections replaced a set of well-used scanners that Shelby County election administrator Linda Phillips complained were never all in working order at the same time on election days.

<strong>Election administrator </strong><br /><strong>Linda Phillips</strong>

Election administrator
Linda Phillips

Those new scanners were also funded with federal CARES Act money through the Tennessee Secretary of State.

“We only had one county that was not done counting their ballots by midnight,” Hargett said of the statewide vote count in the August elections. “And I really hope that’s the case in November. I think that’s optimistic. But I do think sometimes at least by the wee hours of the morning we should have all of these ballots counted.”

Absentee votes will complicate election night returns

Phillips wanted additional scanners for the presidential general election to have a larger space than the Shelby Farms operations center for more of the counting boards to make quicker work of the mail-in ballots.

As of Tuesday morning, there had been requests for 28,929 ballots and 22,298 completed ballots had been returned to the Shelby County Election Commission.

Four years ago, 6,937 absentee ballots were cast locally in the presidential general election.

The election commission sought to buy the additional scanners as part of a $5.8 million contract for a new voting system to make its debut in the 2022 elections locally. But the Shelby County Commission rejected the contract after election officials said the contract had to be voted on as a single item including the new voting system.

Last week, Hargett reached out to Phillips with the offer.

“Funds have already been granted to Shelby County, but if you need additional resources to count the record number of ballots being cast, the state will fill the gap being left so votes can be counted efficiently and accurately,” Hargett wrote. “I want to ensure the voters of Shelby County have confidence in the process.”

The hand-marked ballots will be counted Election Day in a socially distanced setting at the Downtown arena.

That’s after the signatures on the affidavits that come with the absentee ballots are verified at the election commission operations center at Shelby Farms.

Without the additional scanners, the process at two locations would have been more complex and taken up more time.


2020 Elections Presidential Election 2020 Tre Hargett absentee voting Shelby County Election Commission

Bill Dries on demand

Never miss an article. Sign up to receive Bill Dries' stories as they’re published.

Enter your e-mail address

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


Want to comment on our stories? Or read the comments of others? Join the conversation by subscribing now. Only subscribers can view or add comments. Our commenting policy can be viewed here