Jacksonville election to use virus protocols

Vote for council is county’s 1st in person since outbreak

'I Voted' stickers are shown in this file photo.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)
'I Voted' stickers are shown in this file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Pulaski County's first in-person voting experience during the novel coronavirus global pandemic is set to conclude Tuesday.

Jeff Elmore, Pat Thomas and Michael Dietz are running for the Jacksonville City Council's Ward 1, Position 1 seat that was left vacant with the retirement of Kenny Elliott. The term will expire at the end of 2022.

A special election was originally set for April 14 but was postponed until Tuesday because of covid-19 concerns.

The race has already drawn hundreds of people to the only precinct open for the election.

While political leaders in some states have encouraged voters to request absentee ballots for elections, not many have asked for them in Jacksonville. County Director of Elections Bryan Poe estimates about 40 people requested them for a race in which city officials have estimated 1,500 to 1,800 people will vote.

By close of business Friday, 453 people had voted.

Poe has said the decision to restrict voting to one site was done from a "health, safety and business standpoint."

During early voting and on Election Day, voters will only be able to cast their ballots at the Jacksonville Community Center at 5 Municipal Drive. Election Day hours are 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m., but people can vote after that if they are in line before close.

Four machines have been placed more than 6 feet apart during early voting, and voters have been given pencils to use to make selections on the screen. The voter uses the eraser on the pencil, to avoid having to use his finger, and then he keeps the pencil.

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On Election Day, pens used to fill out paper ballots will not be returnable. Voting will take place at at least 10 tables spaced widely apart. Each ballot area also will be wiped down with a bleach-based cleaner after every vote is cast.

Poe said if officials have to give out a bunch of pens, it's a small price to pay to keep voters and volunteers safe. He noted that many election volunteers are senior citizens who are more at risk of complications from infection.

So far, if a voter has refused to wear a mask a younger commission staff member will take the voter to a separate room to cast his ballot, Poe said. That won't be possible on Election Day, which will see more voters and more voting stations.

Dietz and Elmore said they voted Wednesday and were pleased with how the election was running. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was unable to reach Thomas late last week.

Dietz and Elmore discussed the perceived divisiveness of Jacksonville government and cast themselves as peacemakers.

In recent years, one council member said he planned to meet with county prosecutors after alleging that a meeting three other council members had to discuss pay raises for police officers was illegal because the public and media weren't notified.

Another police chief was disqualified by the Arkansas Supreme Court after a council member sued, alleging he had a conviction on his record that made him unfit for office. After he was disqualified, five officers sued to remove the police director from office.