Voting procedure changes in Washington County

FAYETTEVILLE -- How voters cast ballots will change slightly after the Washington County Election Commission gets new equipment this year, commissioners said.

The commission expects to receive new voting equipment by the end of June, said Jennifer Price, coordinator. It will be tested before the Nov. 8 general election, which is expected to see a high turnout rate.

By the numbers

About $1.2 million from the Secretary of State will buy 188 Express Votes machines and kiosks, 50 tabulating machines, 118 electronic tablets for poll books and printers, software and a computer. The county will buy 100 Express Vote machines, 100 kiosks, a laptop, 48 jump drives for the tabulating machines and bags for ballots.

Source: Washington County Election Commission

Washington County is scheduled to have the equipment operational for school elections in September, according to a news release. The Arkansas Secretary of State will spend $1.2 million to buy the equipment for the county. The county will match the state's award with about $420,000.

Chris Powell, Secretary of State spokesman, said the new equipment should streamline the voting process.

Poll workers will check in voters using electronic tablets, Price said. Voters will be given a piece of paper with a barcode that will be entered into a machine to display the proper ballot. After voting, the ballot is printed out, the voter can double-check it and place it in a tabulating machine.

The vote previously was tabulated on a paper roll inside the voting machines. Voters do not receive a copy. Poll workers had to remove and replace the paper rolls.

The state's award came as commissioners were starting to worry about aging equipment failing during a major election.

The money is great but it fell short of what the county needed, Price and commissioners said. The state awarded the county about $250,000 less than expected.

The county adjusted some of its equipment requests to compensate, Price said. About 11 rural polling places with traditionally lighter turnout will not have counting machines on site. Workers will take the ballots to the courthouse to be counted.

Voters still may face long lines about 5 p.m. on Election Day, which is one of the most popular voting times, said Chairman Bill Ackerman. Price said each voting center will have one to five tablets for check-in.

Tabulation of votes also should be faster, Powell said.

"With the upgrades in technology, we believe it will help streamline the election process for both voters and poll workers," Powell said.

The Secretary of State's office also will buy equipment for Yell, Chicot, Cleveland, Jackson and Randolph counties.

Boone, Columbia, Garland and Sebastian counties previously received equipment under a pilot program. These counties successfully used the new system for the March 1 preferential primary election, according to a secretary of state news release.

No additional counties are expected to get new equipment this year, Powell wrote in an email last week.

"We have done our best to include a mix of small-, medium- and large-sized counties in different areas of the state," Powell said. "We look forward to a successful election in November and to further expanding this system across the state when it is feasible."

NW News on 05/29/2016