September 28, 2020

Pulaski County reworking proposal for voting centers

LITTLE ROCK — Voters in Pulaski County will be able to vote at one of 12 conveniently placed voting centers during the 2020 election after the Quorum Court and Election Commission confirmed the plan in August.

County officials are already looking to expand the plan for the 2022 election for ease of voting with an ordinance that was to be discussed last week at the Quorum Court’s agenda meeting on Tuesday.

Justice of the Peace Doug Reed, the ordinance’s sponsor, pulled the ordinance after some thought about cost but said later he would like to continue to pursue the idea after gathering the thoughts of others.

“I realized that it was going to cost too much and I couldn’t vote for it myself,” Reed said. “I’m going to reintroduce it. I just have to talk to people.”

Currently, 17 states, including Arkansas, allow counties to use the Vote Centers alternative for elections. Reed mentioned Washington County as a particularly successful implementation of the voting system. The county currently has 46 voting centers.

Reed said he can find multiple situations that could make voting under a precinct system difficult, like having to run home across town to vote at your local precinct during a business day.

The voting-center ordinance, which would allow voters to vote at any precinct, makes that problem go away.

“If I’m downtown and I go ‘Oh I need to vote,’ well I can go vote,” Reed said. “I know I can vote any place because it’s all connected. It’s all electronic.”

The system would be interconnected between polling centers and would tell the computers at other voting centers whether a voter had cast his vote at any of the other voting centers. This would come at an increased cost to how the precincts currently handle voting.

“I know we can’t afford the equipment to make everything a voting center which I was originally going to do,” Reed said. “So, I think we’re just going to have some voting centers.”

To implement the plan, some of the current 137 precincts would have to be substituted for a fewer amount of voting centers that would be more convenient and also have more benefits, according to Reed.

“It’s a good way to encourage voting and also to keep any kind of fraud down if it’s done right,” Reed said.

Reed is unsure when he will be able to have a reworked ordinance to present at an agenda committee meeting but will be working with constituents to find a solution that balances the cost and the amount of locations.

Other members of the Quorum Court were not clear on what exactly the ordinance would do when they arrived at the meeting Tuesday. Justice Phil Stowers said he had several questions about the ordinance.

“I was going to have questions [at the meeting], because I didn’t really understand the purpose or the intent of the ordinance given that we had already established at our last meeting the early voting sites as well as the vote centers on Election Day,” Stowers said.

Justice of the Peace Barry Jefferson said he likes the convenience of voting centers that give residents of the county encouragement to go out and vote.

“I really don’t see a problem with it because we have so many people who travel throughout Pulaski County to work or whatever then have to rush back to go vote,” Jefferson said. “And I think it’d be a great opportunity for a person to stop by any voting center just to go vote.”

Jefferson did not say whether he’d support a new ordinance definitively but said the likelihood of him supporting new voting-center legislation would be 75%.

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