Washington County steps toward voting centers

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Washington County Election Commission will be consolidating polling places because county voting centers are planned for the March 1 party primaries and nonpartisan judicial election.

"(This is) the opportunity for the voter to vote at any location," Election Coordinator Jennifer Price said Friday.

The number of polling places will drop from 56 to 50. The plan is to have all the polling sites as voting centers, Price said.

The sites approved for consolidation in Fayetteville are: First Assembly of God with Buckner Baptist Church; Christ's Church with Genesis Church; and First United Presbyterian Church with Sequoyah United Methodist Church, according to commission documents.

Consolidations in Springdale are: Temple Baptist Church to Cross Church; First United Methodist Church to Elmdale Baptist Church and John Powell Senior Center to Rodeo Community Center building.

Most of the consolidations were of sites less than 2 miles apart, Price said.

The consolidations drop Fayetteville from 17 to 14 sites and Springdale from 11 to 8, Price said.

Polling places outside the cities were unchanged.

The commission's proposal for voting centers will be submitted Wednesday to the Arkansas secretary of state, Price said.

Opening voting centers will allow residents to cast ballots at any center, no matter which precinct they live in, commissioners said. Voters who have moved recently and no longer live near their precinct polling site can vote at other voting sites, Price said.

"If (voters) pass a polling place, they would be able to go into the polling place and cast their ballots there," she said.

The method favors machine voting over paper ballots and is expected to make voting more convenient for voters and make counting ballots easier on commissioners and staff on election nights, Price said.

During the 2012 Presidential Election, the commission released unofficial election results about 2 a.m. Three machines counted paper ballots nonstop starting about 8 p.m. and still couldn't finish faster, Price said.

Voting centers have been used twice this year, Price said. The centers were used during the Sept. 8 special election in Fayetteville and the school election Sept. 15.

Of the roughly 10,000 who voted in the special election, 32 used paper ballots, Price said. Unofficial election results were released about 10 p.m.

Price told justices of the peace earlier this month the commission is trying to prepare for the 2016 presidential general election in November.

Price expects roughly 80,000 voters to cast ballots on Election Day.

The Quorum Court approved increasing the commission's 2016 budget by $420,000 to cover new equipment needed for the voting centers. The court also approved voting centers.

"Voting is one of the most important things that citizens do," said Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison, D-West Fork, during a budget meeting last week.

NW News on 11/30/2015