By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Local election officials are considering an electronic upgrade that could complement the state's new voter ID law which is expected to go into effect next year.
At the Lauderdale Council of Governments meeting on Monday, Jeff Tate, chairman of the Lauderdale County Election Commission, said the commission is getting more information about a new system they hope to have in place at 12 precincts by next year. The new system would allow election workers to scan a voter ID card so all of the necessary information would be easily available.
The first Mississippi election in which voter ID is to be used is the June, 3, 2014 primary for U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives seats, according to a spokesperson from the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office.
"We're checking with different vendors that are currently operating in other states and a few other counties here in Mississippi," Tate said. "It would be a laptop computer that would have a device that would scan a Mississippi driver's license, along with what the secretary of state will issue as a voter ID, for those who do not have any other form of photo identification. It would determine which district that voter lives in. Some precincts have more than one district in them."
For example, Tate said that under the new lines approved by the Mississippi Legislature, some voters at the Velma Young Center will choose a candidate in one Mississippi House of Representatives district; and some voters at that same center will choose a candidate in a different district.
"So instead of playing a guessing game and checking the map to see which district that voter lives in, by simply scanning your ID, it will pull up the correct ballot for that voter," Tate said.
That will make it easier for the voter and for the poll worker, he said.
"Another benefit of this device is, if the voter were to go to the wrong precinct, then this device would tell the voter which precinct they need to go to and even give turn by turn directions to get there, from their current location," Tate said.
Tate said the commission is in the early stages of considering the purchase and he does not have a firm idea of the cost involved yet, but he expects the initial phase of 12 precincts would cost somewhere around $12,000.
Also on Monday, Curt Goldacker, CAO for the city of Meridian, updated COG members on some of the changes Mayor Percy Bland and other city officials have made going into their four month of the new administration. Among those changes is the police department's shift changes implemented by Police Chief James Lee. Goldacker said Lee announced staff changes on Monday morning.
"On the 16th of October, the police will be changing shifts. They will go from 12-hour shifts to 8-hour shifts," Goldacker said." Instead of having seven to nine officers on duty per shift, that will be 12 to 15 officers per eight-hour shift. They will be assigned quadrants and those police officers will maintain those areas of responsibility so that any given location, you'll see a patrol officer go past the same point every seven to 10 minutes."
Goldacker also announced plans for a city and county exercise, to take place in November, where officers will meet at the vacant Kate Griffin School to conduct training to prepare for a biological disaster.
"We are going to have decontamination stations and we're going to involve the sheriff's department, the city of Meridian, and teams from Jackson," Goldacker said. "We're going to make sure that all of our communication links and all of our abilities to react during an emergency or in any kind of disaster is functional."
The proposed 2 percent food and beverage tax on prepared food and drinks at Meridian restaurants is in talks again, Goldacker said, adding that in 2005, the city was authorized to raise funds for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center through a prepared food and beverage tax. However, the issue never went to a city-wide vote, so the plans stalled.
Goldacker said the Bland administration wants to add the Meridian Youth sports complex, as well as education and recreation to the list of projects that could be funded by a food and beverage tax.
If they can get it approved in the Mississippi Legislature, the city would schedule an election on the proposed tax in April.
Based on the estimates, the city could take in about $4.2 million a year through the new tax, Goldacker said. The city would propose that half the proceeds would go the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center; the other half would go to fund the sports-plex and to pay for maintenance of existing facilities, he said.
Goldacker also mentioned that there are two developers who have contacted the city about purchasing the historic Threefoot Building downtown.