4 polling places used in primary won't be Nov. 8

Garland County gearing up

HOT SPRINGS -- The four polling places with the lightest traffic during the March 1 preferential primary and nonpartisan judicial elections won't be used in the Nov. 8 general election, the Garland County Election Commission has decided.

The commission removed Rock Springs Baptist Church, Lonsdale City Hall, Mountain Pine School and Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts. The closings and the commission's decision to use early voting sites at the election commission building and Faith Fellowship Church on Election Day effectively reduces the county's number of polling places from 24 to 23. Hot Springs Memorial Field was the only one of the county's three early voting sites also used in the primary.

The vote center model the commission adopted last year was used by the county for the first time in the March primaries. It allowed voters to choose where they wanted to vote, but the commission said most people thought they were still assigned to designated locations.

"We didn't do a good enough job of getting the word out," said Gene Haley, election commission chairman, noting that a true indication of location preference won't emerge until voters are more aware that they're no longer assigned to a polling place.

The commission removed the four sites based on a comparison of the number of election day ballots cast at each of the 24 polling locations during the March primaries with the average number of votes at each site in the last two general elections. It showed numbers at Arkansas School, Rock Springs Baptist Church and Mountain Pine School were all below 60 percent of their averages for the 2012 and 2014 general elections.

Rock Springs Baptist Church's 102 voters were the fewest of any election day polling place, followed by Lonsdale City Hall's 137 and the Arkansas School's 228. Mountain Pine had 235 voters.

The commission said the Old Armory Building on Mid-America Boulevard can absorb Mountain Pine voters, and those who vote at Rock Springs can go to Jessieville First Baptist Church. Fountain Lake School and Lakeside Baptist Church are the closest locations for Lonsdale voters.

Even with adding two early voting sites to the election day fold, closing the four locations frees up eight electronic poll books and nine electronic voting machines that can be allocated to busier election day sites. The commission said high traffic locations such as the airport, which had 938 voters check in electronically, need a minimum of four poll books to facilitate voter flow.

The electronic poll books update voter check-ins in real time, allowing the commission to monitor which sites need more equipment. It held 10 voting machines in reserve on election day, dispatching them to sites with high check-in numbers.

Reducing the polling place list allows the commission to assign more poll workers to busier locations. The 192 who worked March 1 left some sites understaffed, as many poll workers were tied up relaying voter changes of address to the county clerk's office.

Addresses that don't match what is listed in the voting records have to be updated before a voter can cast a ballot.

Poll workers call the clerk's office, which updates the voting records and tells the poll worker the ballot style assigned to the new address. Haley said 561 changes of address were processed on election day.

He said he's asked the state association of election commissioners to lobby the Legislature to change the law that allows voters who move within the county to update their addresses on election day.

Metro on 03/21/2016