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Gov. Asa Hutchison said Thursday that $8.24 million in state funds was provided to the secretary of state's office this week to allow counties to improve voting equipment, programming and maintenance.

The Republican governor's announcement in a news release came a day after Kurt Naumann, director of administration and legislative affairs in the secretary of state's office, told several dozen county officials that the office expected to receive these funds in mid-August from the state Department of Finance and Administration.

The transfer was allowed under Act 808 of 2019. Hutchinson said the money was transferred out of excess revenues in the property tax relief trust fund, financed by a half-cent sales tax to pay for the homestead property tax credit, to the secretary of state's office. The money will be awarded to counties through the county voting system grant fund.

Act 808 also increases the homestead property tax credit from $350 to $375 per homestead and allows other excess revenues in the property tax relief fund to be shifted to the state's Long-Term Reserve Fund.

"In the November [2018] general election, 54 Arkansas counties offered [voters] new, improved voting equipment," Hutchinson said in his news release.

"Through this significant commitment to the secretary of state's office, there will be increased resources to provide up-to-date secure equipment in our elections," he added.

The cost of new voting equipment, which the secretary of state's office purchases, is shared by the state and counties.

The $8.24 million will be used to buy new equipment for the remaining 21 counties and reimburse three counties half of what they spent to buy new equipment, Naumann said. The secretary of state's office estimates that Benton County will be reimbursed $1.3 million; White County, $537,629; and Ashley County, $238,151.

The secretary of state's office has estimated that the 21 counties' share of the cost of the new voting machines will be $6.79 million, so the total spent will be about $15 million, Naumann said.

The 21 counties are: Baxter, Bradley, Conway, Drew, Fulton, Jefferson, Lee, Lincoln, Madison, Mississippi, Monroe, Newton, Phillips, Poinsett, Pulaski, Saline, Scott, Searcy, St. Francis, Stone and Van Buren counties.

Officials from some counties such as Jefferson County, said their counties are so cash-strapped that they won't be able to match state funds.

Officials in the secretary of state's office said Wednesday they would like to install new equipment by the March 3 primary election in the 21 counties that don't have it. But the office's elections director, Leslie Bellamy, said those counties won't have new equipment for next year's election cycle if Republican Secretary of State John Thurston decides to rebid the purchase, as had been suggested.

In 2015, Thurston's predecessor, Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin, decided to purchase a statewide integrated voting system, including new equipment, through Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software.

Metro on 08/02/2019

Print Headline: Voting upgrade money granted, Hutchinson says

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