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story.lead_photo.caption Voters form a line Tuesday, March 3, 2020, at the Sequoyah United Methodist Church polling place in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Ben Goff) ( Ben Goff)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Election officials are drafting plans for holding the November general election while working under restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The Washington County Election Commission discussed Thursday what they think the county may need. The discussion was spurred in part because the Secretary of State's Office asked county clerks, county judges and election officials in every county for a priority list of their anticipated needs for the election.

A letter says Arkansas received a federal grant under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act including money for the November 2020 election. The money is intended "to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, for the 2020 federal election cycle."

County officials are to respond by May 29.

Jennifer Price, election director for Washington County, said she has talked with other counties in Northwest Arkansas to coordinate responses. Price said it's important for the state to provide early guidance and support to the counties rather than leaving them to fend for themselves.

"We need to know if the state is going to be buying items in bulk or getting lists from each county and buying or reimbursing the counties," Price said. "Otherwise, each county is going to be pitted against the other counties. For example, face masks or alcohol wipes. Every county needs those. We need for the state to buy the items in bulk, but we need to tell the state what we need."

Price said she polled her election supervisors and drew up a five-item priority list. First was money to cover printing absentee ballots, envelopes and postage.

Second is a supply of disposable stylus pens so each voter can be given one to sign in and make selections on the voting machines. That will help reduce the need for cleaning items and also reduce the need for voters to touch the voting equipment, Price said. Each stylus costs about 4 cents, Price said.

Third would be shields or protective barriers for polls. Price showed the commission an example of a portable screen being used in some businesses, including grocery stores, that could be used in early voting locations and election day polling places.

Fourth is masks for election staff and poll workers and fifth is gloves for staff and poll workers.

Benton County election officials said Thursday they're working on their response to the letter and have similar concerns and priorities. Kim Dennison, Benton County election coordinator, said her staff has a supply of masks and stylus pens and used them in runoff voting after the March 3 primary election. Dennison said more may be needed in November.

Benton County Clerk Betsy Harrell said the protective screens are already in place in all of the county clerk's offices but more are needed for off-site voting locations.

Harrell said her biggest need is to cover the potential cost of higher number of absentee ballots. Voters can request an absentee ballot be mailed to them up to seven days before the election.

Harrell said Benton County had runoff voting for two races for state representative in March, after the social distancing guidelines and restrictions on public gatherings were put in place. Typically, she said, the county would expect fewer then 200 absentee ballots for such an election.

"We did 1,143 absentee ballots," Harrell said.

Primary costs

Washington County’s Election Commission on Thursday approved a list of expenses for the March 3 primary election to submit to the state for reimbursement. The state pays part of the cost of the primary elections, including part of poll workers pay, poll worker training, supply costs, ballot printing, programming costs and other expenses. Washington County is requesting reimbursement of $154,754.

Source: Washington County

NW News on 05/22/2020

Print Headline: Counties prioritize election needs

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