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New gear on hold for all but 4 counties

by Emily Walkenhorst | August 26, 2015 at 4:24 a.m.

Only four Arkansas counties will have the state's new voting equipment in time for the primary elections, Rob Hammons, elections division director for the secretary of state's office, told the Arkansas County Election Commissions Association on Tuesday.

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Hammons spoke as a part of the association's meeting at the Holiday Inn in Little Rock near Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field. About 200 election officials from across the state attended.

Although the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 151 of 2015, allowing the secretary of state's office to replace election commission equipment for up to $30 million, no money was set aside to pay for the equipment.

"So we had the funding as far as the appropriation, but we never got the check," Hammons said, adding that unfunded acts are common and occur when lawmakers must prioritize the state budget.

"And that's fine," he said. "That happens all the time."

Instead, the secretary of state's office has set up a four-county pilot program to test new equipment using $2.5 million from its elections division budget. Those counties are Boone, Sebastian, Garland and Columbia.

In June, Secretary of State Mark Martin selected Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software as the state's contractor for new voting equipment. At the time, officials did not anticipate using the equipment before the 2016 primary.

The new voting equipment that Boone, Sebastian, Garland and Columbia counties will use allows voters to cast paper ballots or mark votes on electronic screens. The equipment also allows for integration between polling place equipment and voter registration systems.

Many county election officials have been OK with the situation, hesitant to install new equipment so close to a presidential election year.

"Pulaski County is not interested in implementing new voting equipment before 2017," Pulaski County Election Director Bryan Poe said after the meeting. Yancey Kyle, a Union County election commissioner, told Hammons that he didn't want to install new equipment before the 2016 elections, either.

Hammons said counties would not be forced to install new equipment for the 2016 elections, but he urged them to spend any grant money they might have for new equipment before 2017 to keep from losing it.

Metro on 08/26/2015

Print Headline: New gear on hold for all but 4 counties

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