County OKs replacement of electronic voting machines

by Nicole Stokes

Franklin County — along with other jurisdictions across Mississippi — will soon need to purchase updated voting equipment, according to Circuit Clerk Warren Walker.

At the second regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors on Monday, July 18, Walker told the panel that current electronic voting machines will no longer be supported by Election Systems & Software, the company that manufactures and sells the equipment.

“Everybody across the state is changing voting equipment,” he said. “Our voting equipment is outdated. We got it (at the end of) 2005 or the first part of 2006, and they’re fixing to get to where they quit maintaining it because they can’t get the stuff to take care of it, so everybody’s making a move to try to go to the same machines.”

The new machines will be different from the ones currently in use in that they will scan paper ballots that voters fill out by hand.

There will be 15 precinct scanners and 14 machines purchased that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Walker said the county was credited $31,900 for the machines they have now, as well as $2,350 for two scanners, which brought the total cost of the new machines and scanners to $114,388.

He also said the county had applied for and received two grants — one for $69,165.25 and another through the Help America Vote Act valued at $13,196 — for the purchases.

“We (also) have a fund in the county that the Secretary of State sends us on what’s called ‘foreign LLCs,’” he continued.

“So anybody outside of the state of Mississippi who does business inside the state pays a permit cost for a limited liability corporation to do business here, and they send us a portion of that money every year. We have funds on hand (and) we’ve agreed to take $10,000 out of that money to go toward the cost of this, too.”

Walker noted he is seeking an additional $22,027 in his budget for the upcoming fiscal year to help pay for the machines.

The board voted to allow him to begin the reverse auction process to purchase the voting equipment, in hopes of having it in place by the November general election cycle.

The board also heard from Catherine McPhate, executive director of Natchez Children’s Services, with a request to consider funding the organization when supervisors begin work on their fiscal year 2023 budget.

The children’s advocacy center in Natchez serves children in Franklin, Adams, Claiborne, Jefferson and Wilkinson counties who have witnessed a crime or possibly experienced physical or sexual abuse and provides a safe environment for them to talk to professionals.

“We work with law enforcement, the district attorney’s office, Child Protection Services, mental health professionals and medical professionals to offer an array of services free of charge for these kids who’ve experienced trauma and abuse, so that way hopefully we can get these cases prosecuted and these children the justice, hope and healing that they deserve.” McPhate said.

“From July 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021, we serviced 340 children and their family members, and 51 of those were Franklin County cases alone.

“So far this fiscal year, from October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, we’ve seen 226 children and their family members, (with) 34 of those being Franklin County cases.

“The National Children’s Alliance reports an estimated savings of nearly $1,000 per child that is interviewed at a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC). On a per-case basis, traditional investigations were 36 percent more expensive than a CAC investigation.

“The cost of a CAC investigation averages $2,900 compared to $3,900 for a traditional abuse investigation. Based on the projected number of children that we expect to see (by) the end of this fiscal year — Friday, Sept. 30 — we’re looking at a savings of more than $50,000 for Franklin County. So we are just coming to ask for support from Franklin County to continue our program and help provide these services that are much needed in our area.”

The board did not give an answer at the time about adding Natchez Children’s Services to the county’s budget.

However, work sessions to determine the amount of money the county will spend in the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, are due to begin soon.

Other actions undertaken by the panel included:

• Accepting Mrs. Frances Elizabeth Rushing’s oath of office as the newly appointed District 2 election commissioner.

• Approving payment of claims to WGK Engineers in the following amounts — $1,692.50 for work done on a McCall Creek Road Natural Resources Conservation Service-funded project; $3,147.50 for grant services provided; $4,995 for services rendered on bridge SA19-0032 on Middleton Creek Road, which is reimbursable by the Office of State Aid Road Construction; $15,269.03 for services provided on State Aid Project-19(71) on Burt Jordan Road, also reimbursable by State Aid; and $15,799.02 for work done on SAP-19(73), a slide repair on Gloster Road to be reimbursed by State Aid as well.

• Accepting a bid from G. Rayborn Contracting in the amount of $492,916.40 for SAP-19(72) on Providence Road.

Two other bids were received for the same project, but G. Rayborn Contracting was the lowest.

• Giving approval to advertise the county’s resources in The Franklin Advocate’s annual football magazine for $200 and in the Southwest Mississippi football magazine for $250.

• Removing the District 3 shop building, which was destroyed by Hurricane Ida, from the county’s inventory list.

• Spreading on the minutes certificates of Justice Court training for Gladys Wilcher and Larry Wallace.

• Approving payment to The Franklin Advocate in the amounts of $2,724 for legal advertising regarding redistricting and $99.80 for an advertisement for bids for repairs to be done on Clear Springs Road.

• Approving payment of $175 plus expenses for county purchasing clerk Erica Havard to attend the annual Mississippi Association of Governmental Purchasing and Property Agents (MAGPPA) conference.

The board also approved paying $35 for Havard’s MAGPPA dues.

• Giving approval for Max Wilkinson to attend the Mississippi Sex Offender Registry Symposium.

• Receiving a quote from Gator Signs for replacement of the Franklin County Public Library’s sign in the brick marquis located in front of the building.

The signage quote was for $1,715.60.

Chancery Clerk Jill Jordan Gilbert informed the board that Librarian Susan Adams said she would plant a flower garden in the area in lieu of replacing the sign, as that would be a more cost effective option.

• Voting to approve the annual beaver control program for the amount of $7,500.

District 4 Pat Larkin abstained from voting as a member of his family is involved in the program.

• Taking part in executive session to discuss potential litigation matters with the board’s attorneys.

The next regular business meeting of the Franklin County Board of Supervisors will be held at 9 a.m., Monday, Aug. 1 at the courthouse on Main Street in Meadville. The session is open to the public.