Washington County to test new voting equipment during February elections

FAYETTEVILLE -- Two special elections set for Feb. 8 will give Washington County election officials a chance to test new equipment in advance of the May 24 primary election.

Jennifer Price, elections director, told the Election Commission on Thursday that she will use new tablets for voter check-in during the special elections.

Price said Feb. 8 is the general election date to fill the vacant state Senate seat for District 7. Lance Eads resigned from the position in October and Gov. Asa Hutchinson called for a special election to fill the seat. A separate special election to fill Fayetteville City Council's Ward 2 seat -- vacated by the Oct. 25 resignation of Matthew Petty -- is also set for Feb. 8.

The county bought 166 tablets last year for about $250,000.

Price said the tablets should make the voter check-in process smoother for poll workers and voters. The screens on the tablets are less cluttered and more "user-friendly" for poll workers and voters, she said. The tablets also can scan Arkansas driver's licenses, if that is the identification offered by a voter, "in a matter of seconds" and pull up the voter's information automatically.

"That will eliminate the human error of possibly issuing the wrong ballot to a voter," Price said.

The older tablets required poll workers to manually locate and pull up voter information, Price said, presenting a greater risk of error when dealing with similar voter names.

Price briefed the commission on the training for poll workers on the new tablets. She stressed that poll workers will not ask voters for any specific type of photo identification, since state law provides that several different types of photo identification are acceptable.

"State law is very specific on that," Max Deitchler, election commissioner, said during the discussion.

Price said the new tablets also reduce the amount of contact between voters and poll workers. She said voters will be given a stylus to use and keep when needed and will be able to have the tablets scan their driver's license while they hold them. Voters also will place their ballots into the printers and vote-counting machines themselves.

Kim Dennison, Benton County's election coordinator, said that county has purchased 176 of the tablets and will begin using them for the May 24 primary election.

Price said she wants to get the new tablets ready for use in the special election to give election workers some experience with them and to make sure they work as anticipated before the May 24 party primary elections.

"Washington County will be the first county in the state to use the new tablets," Price said of the Feb. 8 elections. "I'd much rather use them for the first time in February than in May."

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