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Changes Ahead For Early Voting

by Tom Sissom | November 14, 2010 at 5:03 a.m.

— Benton County residents who want to take advantage of the early voting period for the Nov. 23 runoff election need to be aware of a few changes, County Clerk Tena O’Brien said.

Hours for early voting have changed, and the number of early voting sites has been reduced, O’Brien said.

The early voting period begins Tuesday and ends Nov. 22, she said. Early voting hours will be from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and the polling locations will be open weekdays only.

O’Brien said early voting will be available at the county clerk’s three offices. The main office in Bentonville is on the second floor of the County Administration Building at 215 E. Central Ave. The Rogers office is at 300 W. Poplar St. and the Siloam Springs office is at 707 S. Lincoln St.

Amy Huston, Benton County’s election coordinator, said she expects turnout for the runoff election to be a fraction of the turnout for the Nov. 2 general election. She said 70 percent of the county’s voters in 2008 participated in the general election and only 7 percent in the runoff. In this year’s general election, 50 percent of the county’s voters cast ballots, she said.

AT A GLANCE

Early Voting

Early voting will be available weekdays at the three offices of the Benton County Clerk from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. beginning Tuesday and ending Nov. 22. The main office of the county clerk in Bentonville is on the second floor of the County Administration Building at 215 E. Central Ave. The Rogers office is at 300 W. Poplar St. and the Siloam Springs office is at 707 S. Lincoln St.

Source: Benton County Clerk

O’Brien said there were 17,877 early votes cast in the general election. Of that total, 6,958 were cast in the Bentonville office, 5,325 were cast in the Rogers office and 1,904 were cast in the Siloam Springs office.

O’Brien said that voting pattern could change in the runoff.

“I expect the Rogers satellite office to see more of the voters because of the mayor’s race there,” she said. “Bentonville may see some more voters because there’s no Bella Vista location.”

O’Brien said paper ballots will be available for early voting in the runoff, but only in the Bentonville office. That same arrangement produced just one complaint during the general election, she said.

O’Brien said early voting offers the best chance for anyone seeking to avoid long lines.

“I would encourage them to come out in the first or second day of early voting,” she said.

Vivian Michaels, vice chairwoman of the Benton County Democratic Party committee, said she understands the need to keep costs down, but said she thinks early voting should be available in the same locations for both the general election and the runoff. Not having an early voting site in Bella Vista is particularly puzzling.

“Usually, older people are much more into voting than younger people,” she said. “Why take that away?”

Mike Sevak, chairman of the Benton County Republican Party committee, said he’s also concerned that an early voting site in Bella Vista won’t be available for the runoff. He said it’s impossible to say what effect that may have, but it is something he’ll watch with interest.

Kurt Maddox faces Greg Hines in a runoff for Rogers mayor. Maddox said his campaign is working to spread the news about the early voting changes by telephone, by e-mail and on Facebook.

“I understand why they’re doing it,” Maddox said. “In a runoff the turnout is lower and they’re trying to save money. As far as it making any difference, I don’t know. The people who vote in a runoff, they’re going to vote. They’re going to find the time and find the place and they’re going to vote.”

Hines said his campaign is also working to get the word out, in both traditional venues like newspapers and radio and via social media. He said he favors expanded voter access to early voting, saying it encourages voter turnout.

“I think it’s always better to have more access to voting and I’m glad we will have a location here in Rogers that will allow people to do early voting. I think we’ll see 50 percent of the turnout in this runoff will be in early voting,” Hines said.

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