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The Pulaski County Election Commission will submit a quote next week for new election equipment, an official said during the end of an hourlong meeting in the county judge's office Wednesday.

Commission Chairwoman Evelyn Gomez met with representatives of the Pulaski County clerk's office and the state secretary of state's office at the request of County Judge Barry Hyde. About $1.56 million from the state will help Pulaski County update or replace voting equipment, if officials choose a plan.

In a recent discussion, Gomez proposed moving the county to vote centers, according to previous reports from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Hyde, however, said that change isn't feasible considering the amount of time and funding available before the 2020 general election. Instead, he proposed that the county replace its current equipment and keep the voting process and precincts the same.

"So you don't want to improve?" Gomez said. "You just want to do the bare minimum?"

"You can put it like that," Hyde responded. "We can afford the Ford. We can't afford the Buick, and we definitely can't afford the Cadillac."

The county had 138 polling locations in November 2018. Vote centers offer locations where residents of any part of the county can cast their ballots.

Leslie Bellamy, director of elections for the secretary of state's office, said the benefit of vote centers is in the ease of access for residents, not in a cost difference.

"Don't kid yourself that you'll need less equipment," Bellamy said. "You still have the same number of voters. If you do it right, it's probably not going to save you any money.

"A vote center model is something that needs a lot of consideration. It's not easy."

None of the changes -- regardless of what plan the officials choose -- will affect the 2020 primary election, Hyde said. The polling equipment is still functional, though Hyde said it is aging.

Under one of the current proposals, the county would purchase 135 precinct scanners, 300 machines for checking in voters and 220 voting machines. The proposal is subject to change.

"We can't afford to rely on it until it breaks down," Hyde said.

He said he's not opposed to eventually moving to vote centers but that the process will need community input and planning. Pulaski Circuit/County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth agreed.

"When you talk about vote centers, we definitely have to have public meetings because we don't want to disenfranchise any voters," Hollingsworth said.

Gomez and Commissioner Joshua Price said the commission would hold public meetings to address voter accessibility if officials decided to pursue a vote center option.

Hollingsworth suggested that the commission work toward having vote centers by the 2022 election, not in 2020.

At the end of the meeting, Hyde asked that Gomez send him an updated purchase proposal quote for replacing the county's equipment. Gomez said she would send him the proposal next week.

"We may not agree on where we end up," Hyde said, "but I think we've agreed on how we're going to start."

Metro on 11/07/2019

Print Headline: Officials begin county's look into new election equipment


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