Election commissioners question why contractor had to stop delivering machines days before runoffs

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 9:43 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A contractor is back at work delivering election equipment for the Republican primary runoff, hours after Hinds County leaders told him to quit.

Professionals on Wheels has until Monday to finish delivering voting machines to all 108 precincts in preparation for the June 28 runoffs.

Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to vote in one of two Republican runoffs: the 3rd Congressional District race between Rep. Michael Guest and Michael Cassidy and the 2nd Congressional runoff between Ronald Eller and Brian Flowers.

Just who would ensure voting machines are in place for those races was still up in the air Wednesday afternoon.

Professionals on Wheels, the firm the Hinds County Election Commission had hoped to use, had to temporarily stop delivering machines and precinct bags after the county failed to get two bids for the work.

About 60 percent of voting equipment still had not been delivered to the precincts as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.

“This has really become an emergency because we don’t have any company secured to deliver voting equipment,” Commission Chair Shirley Varnado said. “We have asked the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to step in and guarantee that we have delivery for a fair and safe election.”

Under state procurement rules, the county had to receive two bids, based on the price of the work. However, commissioners said purchasing had only received one bid prior to Wednesday, and that was from Professionals on Wheels.

As a result, some members of the commission were worried machines would not be delivered on time.

Four members held a press conference Wednesday to discuss their concerns.

They questioned why the Purchasing Department had not gotten a second bid prior to the week before the runoffs.

On top of that, Varnado asked why Professionals on Wheels was directed to stop working, days after Board of Supervisors President Credell Calhoun had a conversation “verbally giving Mr. Williams permission to commence delivery of Election Day equipment.”

Williams is Kenneth Williams, the owner of Professionals on Wheels. Williams also calibrates the machines on behalf of the voting machines’ manufacturer.

Calhoun visited Election Commission headquarters on June 20, Varnado said.

“We feel that this is kind of like a blatant attempt to sabotage this election by parties that know nothing about the election process,” Varnado said. “And we, as the four commissioners, are very concerned about that, because we want to have a fair and safe election for the citizens of Hinds County.”

Four of the county’s five election commissioners were at Wednesday’s press conference, including Varnado, Yvonne Horton, Kidada Brown, and Jermal Clark. District 2 Election Commissioner Toni Johnson was absent.

County Administrator Kenny Wayne Jones said Professionals on Wheels had to stop work because the county did not have the proper paperwork to allow the company to move forward.

“Any time I don’t have the proper paperwork, I’m going to stop whatever I need to stop until Hinds County gets the proper procurement in place,” he said. “That’s with the election commission or anybody else that deals with Hinds County.”

“If we don’t have the proper documentation, we’re not moving. It’s just that simple.”

Jones said the county worked all day Wednesday to get a second bid for the work. “Once purchasing told me they had two quotes, I gave permission for Professionals on Wheels to go ahead... because of the time constraint and his knowledge of the situation, I approved what was already there.”

In November, the commission had similar concerns after another firm was chosen to deliver machines rather than a more experienced contractor. That firm eventually lost the contract and Professionals on Wheels had to pick up days before the election.

Jones said in the future, county workers will deliver the machines, cutting out any potential purchasing controversies.

“We won’t have to deal with this again because the function of getting the machines out (to) the precincts will come under Hinds County jurisdiction,” he said. “We’re going to have our employees take them where they’re going. That way, we won’t have to worry about having a P.O.”

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