BENTONVILLE — Benton County officials are looking at using vote centers to replace traditional polling sites as early as the March 1 party primary election.
The county’s election commission voted unanimously Thursday to pursue the adoption of a vote-center plan. The plan must be approved by the Quorum Court and the secretary of state’s office before it can be implemented.
The plan being considered will decrease the number of election day voting sites from 67 to 46 and end constraints on where county voters can cast ballots. Under state law, if a vote-center plan is adopted, county voters will be able to vote at any of the approved locations on election day and not be required to vote at the polling site assigned to the precinct they live in.
Russ Anzalone, commission chairman, said that in conjunction with the early voting period, when the rules are similar and voters can use any early voting site, the vote-center plan should make it easier for county residents to cast ballots.
“This will be a big advantage to the voters, because they can vote in any location for 2½ weeks,” Anzalone said.
Anzalone said the vote-center plan will save money by reducing the number of poll workers the county needs on election day and by lowering the cost of printing paper ballots. The different ballots needed for voter precincts will be available on the county’s electronic voting machines.
Kim Dennison, county election coordinator, told the commission that Benton County will get another 54 electronic voting machines that had been in use in Garland County. Garland County, along with Boone and Sebastian counties, is participating in a pilot program for the state, testing the next generation of voting machines at the March 1, 2016, party primary. If the pilot program is a success, Dennison told the commissioners, the state likely will approve the new machines for use in all of Arkansas’ 75 counties for the November 2016 general election.
Dennison said the county is buying electronic poll books, a state requirement for the use of vote centers. The poll books, replacing paper books with lists of voters’ names and voter information, will be tied into a database showing which ballot the voter should receive. Electronic poll books also will show in real time if a person already has voted in an election.
The commissioners discussed the work needed to implement the plan in time for the March primary and voted to proceed. Commissioner Mike Sevak asked Dennison if the county can make the plan work in the time allowed.
“I may be working late hours through the month of December, but we will make it work,” Dennison said. “I have a good staff.”
Commissioner John Brown Jr. said he thinks the county should adopt the vote-center plan.
“I’m all for going the way we’re talking about,” he said. “Going with the voter centers and using all the early vote locations we can get. I’m all in favor of it.”