All camera systems banned at precincts

Published 3:43 am Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Photos and camera recordings of all kinds will be prohibited from the 21 voting precincts in Panola County during next month’s election on Nov. 8. Supervisors made the order at its regular meeting Monday in Saris at the urging of longtime county election commissioner Dorothy Kearney-Wilbourn.

“Cameras are not to be in a voting precinct, and no one is allowed to record or take pictures. We all know that, but some of the precincts themselves have cameras and those need to be turned off from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.” Wilbourn said.

Supervisors debated about whether to have cameras turned off that would potentially capture actual voting, while allowing outside cameras to continue operating. Many of the precincts are located in fire stations who constantly have closed circuit cameras running as theft deterrents.

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County Attorney Gaines Baker said the legal question of what may and may not be recorded at a polling place resides with intent.

“If the cameras violate the integrity of the voting princess, and that is if they are able to discern the ballot, then yes, but otherwise it’s not a violation of the law,” Baker advised. “ But then you get into what it’s picking up.”

Supervisor John Thomas suggested no cameras, inside or outside a building, including the courthouses, be in operation Nov. 8. “The simplest thing is to cut them all off and be done with it.”

“Other than a safety concern that is the easiest thing to do,” Baker said.

Wllbourn also asked the supervisors to check each precinct in their respective districts, noting that some of the places haven’t been clean for recent elections.

She also reported that a couple of the fire stations were locked when Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps and deputy clerks attempted to drop off voting machines the day before the last elections, and no one shared keypad codes with the office for entry.

“They all need to either tell her the code or have someone there with a key to let her in,” Wilbourn said. “It’s a lot of work and it has to be set up the day before. She doesn’t have time to wait hours for the door to be unlocked.”

Supervisors agreed with the commissioner’s suggestions for a smoother election, assuring her all precincts would be checked for cleanliness, and  accessibility for clerk’s office employees.”

“And we are going to cut all the cameras off for you, Miss Dorothy, and if somebody steals a fire truck you will have to replace it,” joked Supervisor Chad Weaver, bringing bursts of laughter for all in the board room.