Voter turnout slow, Northwest Arkansas election officials say

Posted: May 15, 2018 at 1 a.m.

FILE PHOTO ANDY SHUPE Mitch McCorkle, longtime fire chief for West Fork, and his wife, Henryetta, vote in a special election to decide the mayor of West Fork at The Frank Wenzel Community Center.

BENTONVILLE -- Northwest Arkansas election officials say early voting for the May 22 elections seems slow, but note this is a midterm election year and Washington County expanded its early voting locations.

"It's hard to gauge," Jennifer Price, Washington County's election coordinator, said Monday. The vote total reached 2,401 by the end of Monday. The county has 128,727 registered voters.

"We didn't have off-site early voting in 2014 for the primary," Price said. "In 2014, we had about 18,000 votes cast for the primary. Right now, we're at 2,305 early votes cast. I think we'll meet our 2014 numbers."

Early voting for the May 22 primary elections, the nonpartisan judicial elections and some school board elections began May 7 and continues through Monday.

In Benton County, the number of votes cast since early voting opened last week topped 3,000 by mid morning Monday. Kim Dennison, election coordinator, said the pace was slower than she has seen since she took her job in 2010. The vote total reached 3,344 at the end of the day Monday. There are 152,869 registered voters in the county.

Records at the Benton County Clerk's Office show 6,422 early votes cast out of a total of 20,900 votes for the 2014 primary elections. Early voters cast 19,700 ballots in the 2016 primary elections out of a total of 53,496.

"It has been very light," Betsy Harrell, chief deputy clerk for Benton County, said Monday.

Benton County voters are using new voting machines for the first time in a major election. Washington County voters have used the same machines in the past. Benton County officials said they were having no problems with the machines and voter reaction has been positive.

"They're wonderful," Dennison said. "The voters are liking them, and the poll workers are liking them. Everything is working like it's supposed to."

Election information

Voters can obtain more information on the May 22 primary election and the early voting period from the websites for Benton and Washington counties. Benton County election information can be found at vote.bentoncountyar.gov and the Washington County website at www.co.washington.ar.us has information for that county’s voters.

Source: Staff report

Sondra Oliphant of Bentonville said she has voted early in past elections and was pleased with her experience Monday, including the use of the new machines.

"It was easy," she said "Quick in and out."

Oliphant and Alison Jakaitis, also of Bentonville, came to the Benton County Clerk's Office in Bentonville together to cast their ballots. Jakaitis said she has plans to be out of town, and the early voting period made it easy for her to cast her vote.

Some election observers wondered before early voting started if the legal wrangling over the state's voter identification law would impact turnout. A circuit judge deemed the law unconstitutional April 26, but the state Supreme Court subsequently ruled election officials could enforce the law in this month's elections.

Dennison said she had head no complaints nor reports of problems relating to the requirement voters show photo identification when voting. Price said two provisional ballots were cast when voters were unable to provide identification. She said voters can sign a verification of identity affirmation statement and, if their registration information can be confirmed, their ballots will be counted.

NW News on 05/15/2018

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