Quorum Court, Election Commission butt heads over storage location for new voting machines
Issue lastest in series of squabbles among county officials
Crittenden County Quorum Court is at odds with the county Election Commission over where to store the new election machines once the election is over.
The Election Commission was forced to find an outside location big enough to store the new machines because of the ongoing renovations to the county office building, which made it unavailable and put them in a pinch to find another location due to the sheer size of the machines.
Election Coordinator Mike Farrah told the Quorum Court that after calling around looking for spaces big enough and willing to store the machines, the Election Commission had to rent space at Missouri Street Church of Christ in West Memphis for $1,000 a month.
“We could have made it work at the county office building. But with the construction we had to find a space,” Farrah said.
The county is installing new windows in the building on the side where the Election Commission has its office.
“If you look at the county office building, there is dust everywhere,” Farrah said. “We just can’t function in there with new machines.”
The 75 new voting machines which the county received in late August are larger than the previous machines and take up more space to store.
Farrah said once they realized they wouldn’t be able to us the county office building they were pressed for time and had to find space because Election Systems & Software representatives were coming to program the machines and they needed to train the poll workers on how to use them.
“You have to have them all up and open in order to do that,” Farrah said. “We just didn’t have the space.”
Farrah said the Election Commission held an emergency meeting on Sept. 21 and reached out to members of the Quorum Court to ask whether anyone knew about space they could use for free. The only space available was at Missouri Street Church of Christ.
“We were right up against an election and were busy getting that ready,” Farrah said. “The opportunity presented itself. So that’s where we went to. We were able to get every machine set up. Even though we were spread out in different classrooms, we were grateful to the church for letting us do that. We accomplished what we needed to do and get the testing done.”
Justice Vickie Robertson, who has had issues with the way the Election Commission has handled matters in the past, asked why the Quorum Court wasn’t informed about the problem earlier.
“There is no reason why it came down to the last minute to get this done,” Robertson said. “You knew last month — or you should have known — that the equipment was large and you needed more space. And if after all those places they called that they couldn’t find any space for free, then we could have offered them the money.”
Robertson expressed annoyance at the fact that the Election Commission already moved the machines and spent the money on rent and are only now bringing it to their attention for approval.
“Can you see why I am pissed off about the way this has occurred?” Robertson said. “What are we being asked to approve? You’ve already done it. You’re coming to us in the ninth hour after you’ve already decided what you’re going to do and then you want us to approve it. That’s my issue. How do you feel about approving something after the fact? It’s not right. You have to follow some rules.”
Justice Stacy Allen, who has also had problems with the Election Commission, agreed with Roberston and said their actions show that the Election Commission has no respect for the Quorum Court.
“They basically said to hell with the Quorum Court,” Allen said. “They could have come to us at the September meeting and asked about it. When they wanted new machines they came and asked us.”
Farrah said they did call several members of the Quorum Court who offered to help find them space, but had to move quickly because they were pressed for time because they needed to set the machines up so they could train the poll workers.
“We were in contact with members of the Quorum Court, as this was unfolding,” Farrah said. “I apologize that it wasn’t spread out to everyone. We were between a rock and a hard place about what to do. But we need your cooperation to get this resolved.”
Robertson said she did not get a call from anyone on the Election Commission or the Quorum Court alerting her that there was a problem. If she had, she would have asked her church to help because they have a large space that could have been used without having to pay rent.
“They didn’t call me,” Robertson said. “You could have sent out a text saying we are looking for space. Is anyone aware of any place? But they didn’t. I didn’t get a text.”
Justice Albert Marconi said he was notified and tried to help.
“I checked a few places,” Marconi said. “It’s not easy to find a space to put all those machines.”
Justice Lisa O’Neal said the Election Commission reached out to her and she made several calls to find space to set up the machines.
“Vickie, I don’t mean to overstep anybody’s bounds, but they called me,” O’Neal said. “I spent time making phone calls. I called all over Earth. I apologize for not calling you.”
Several other justices said they didn’t get a phone call or know anything about the problem.
“I didn’t receive a call,” Justice Kenneth Cross said.
“I didn’t receive a call or a text,” Justice Tyrone McWright added.
O’Neal said they had lots of people volunteer to let them use space but only for ten days to two weeks. Nobody had room for them for three months.
The only place they could find was Missouri Street Church of Christ. The voting machines took up four rooms and the county is being charged $250 per room. The only other available space wanted $4,300 a month plus utilities, O’Neal said.
“That was the best we could find,” O’Neal said. “We called everybody and anybody who had an open space.”
Allen said nobody is faulting O’Neal for trying, but the entire Quorum Court should have been notified.
“I think you missed the point,” Allen said. “They asked certain people instead of reaching out to everyone. We could have gotten a text message.”
Judge Woody Wheeless said the reason every member of the Quorum Court did not get a text and that the Election Commission didn’t show up to the October Quorum Court meeting is because everyone was under the impression that there would be no cost for using the space.
“So there was no reason for them to come to the Court or even tell them because it wasn’t going to cost anything,” Wheeless said. “I don’t know where the ball was dropped from it being free to them then charging rent.”
A motion to approve paying the $1,000 rent passed 7-5 but did not garner the two-thirds vote necessary to approve an appropriation.
Acting Treasurer Jane Coltharp said the Election Commission could pay for it out of its miscellaneous budget line item.
“They don’t have a line item for rent,” Robertson said.
“So now what’s the plan?” Wheeless asked.
“That’s still not solving the problem,” Justice Ronnie Marconi said. “Maybe some of you can go help move them back out.”
Robertson said she is sick and tired of the Election Commission acting without first getting permission from the Court.
“There is no reason the Election Commission took an action like this before getting approval,” Robertson said. “They’re already there. So they must know how they are going to pay for it. It doesn’t matter what we say. It’s already done.”
Election Commission Chairwoman Dixie Carlson said the Election Commission has the money to pay the rent and doesn’t need the Quorum Court’s permission.
“It’s not up to them,” Carlson said. “We didn’t have to ask for money. We have it in our budget.”
She pointed out that they were offered the space for free. They are not the ones who offered to pay rent.
Carlson said they will wait until after the election to make a decision on where they will store the machines.
Wheeless said they have to do something.
“Once that November election is over those machines have got to go somewhere,” Wheeless said. “I am hoping we can find an answer before then.”
By Mark Randall