Northwest Arkansas model sparks regional election commission groups

Posted: August 2, 2017 at 1:07 a.m.

Bill Ackerman, chairman of the Washington County Election Commission, speaks Wednesday, April 19, 2017, at the beginning of the County Boards of Election Commissioners Regional Meeting at the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Five regional groups representing Arkansas county election commissioners have started up after state officials saw the success of a group in Northwest Arkansas, said Heather McKim, deputy director for the State Board of Election Commissioners.

"You guys sparked a fire with us," McKim said. "We realized we need to be doing this all over the state."

Election commissioners from nine Northwest Arkansas and River Valley counties met Tuesday to talk about election processes and needed legislative chan...

At a glance

The Northwest Arkansas County Boards of Election Commissioners regional meeting drew about 40 commissioners and county representatives from nine counties. Those counties were: Benton, Carroll, Crawford, Johnson, Madison, Marion, Pope, Sebastian and Washington. The next regional meeting will be 10 a.m. Nov. 15 at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office East Annex.

Source: Washington County Election Commission

Since April, groups have started up and met in northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest and central Arkansas, McKim said. Washington County had a small, regional group in 2015 but expanded it in April to include 11 counties.

Washington County's information and presentation at that meeting was used as a model for other regions, McKim said.

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The move toward regional meetings is meant to create more communication between "sister" counties and more cohesion in the election process statewide, McKim said. The board plans to act as a bridge between the regional groups, she said.

"The benefit is that really everyone is on the same page -- that we are running the elections the same way across the state," McKim said. "Voters are the ones who will benefit the most. They will be treated the same across the state regardless of what county they vote in."

On Tuesday, the Northwest Arkansas group's meeting drew 40 commissioners from nine counties. Commissioners learned about new laws, reviewed forms and discussed a possible payment system for school board elections held during primary or general elections.

The regional groups, partly, are a response to the dissolution of the Arkansas County Election Commissions Association, said Jennifer Price, executive director for the Washington County Election Commission.

The association represented commissioners statewide but dissolved in July, according to Pulaski County Circuit Court records. The director of the association resigned in December.

The nonprofit group lacked participation, a judge wrote in the dissolution order. The roughly $1,800 left in the nonprofit organization's coffers went to the attorney, court records show.

Now, several more regional meetings are planned in October and November, McKim said. Commissioners say they want to keep the meetings smaller and more informal, she said.

So far, attendance has been strong among county officials, but the secretary of state, which oversees some election processes, has yet to attend despite being invited.

The secretary of state oversees items including election equipment. The board oversees issues that include training and voter fraud, McKim said.

The voice mail for a secretary of state spokesman was full Tuesday afternoon. He didn't respond to email about whether the secretary of state plans to attend the regional group meetings.

Washington County Election Commission Chairman Bill Ackerman said lawmakers, the secretary of state, state board and counties must work together. The idea is to resolve issues and prevent legislation that hurts the election process, commissioners said.

"It's imperative that we have conversation among ourselves as commissions and counties," Ackerman said. "We are the boots on the ground, if you will."

NW News on 08/02/2017