Benton County OKs Election Changes


— The prospect of saving money and time persuaded Benton County justices of the peace to approve a plan for the county to program its voting machines.

Bill Williams, chairman of the Election Commission, told members of the Finance Committee the election staff could handle the work, which would eliminate sending information and material back and forth between Bentonville and Omaha, Neb., where Election Systems & Software, the company programs the machines, is located.

In October, Williams and election coordinator Amy Huston chartered a plane to Omaha to retrieve the material needed for early voting before the Nov. 2 election.

“I will not be going back to Omaha,” Williams told the justices of the peace.

Williams said election officials in Pulaski, Sebastian and Washington counties have been doing their programming with ES&S machines since 2006 and have told him they are “very pleased” with the results. He said the cost of the software is $40,000, plus a $10,000 licensing fee. The county will have to pay the licensing fee each year to use the software, he said.


Tight Schedule

Money in the county’s 2010 budgets must be spent and items purchased received by Dec. 31,. If the Election Commission’s request is approved by the Quorum Court at its Dec. 16 meeting, the commission will have two weeks to have the material delivered.

Source: Staff Report

Williams said the county should save time and money by having the work done by the election staff and possibly save more money by opening the job of printing paper ballots to companies other than Election Systems.

Williams said buying the software will not solve all election problems, just as buying electronic voting machines did not, but the best available information indicates it will reduce costs and make future problems more manageable.

“This investment right here is as close to a sure-fire moneymaker as I’m ever going to bring you,” Williams told the committee.

Williams said after his request had been approved he has “absolute” confidence in the election staff to make the software work. He said the $10,000 licensing fee does provide some support and the county has also worked with a consultant from Little Rock familiar with Election Systems and will be available to helpl the county.

Richard McComas, county comptroller, said the request is for $40,000 and spending another $10,000 is already in the commission’s budget. It is not a new appropriation, McComas said, and only requires an order be signed by the county judge, but past budgeting practice has been to bring changes in the use of money for equipment back to the Finance Committee as a courtesy.

The committee voted 4-2 to approve the request. Justices of the Peace Dan Douglas and Tom Allen voted against the transfer and the plan to have the county program its own voting machines. Both cited a lack of confidence in the commission.

“I find myself in a dilemma here,” Douglas said. “There has been a great deal of controversy out of the Election Commission in the last year, year-and-a-half. I cannot vote for and support this because of my lack of confidence in the Election Commission at this time.”

Justice of the Peace Kurt Moore, chairman of the committee, said he was persuaded by the potential of saving money and improving county elections.

“This sounds like a reasonable request,” Moore said. “I’m on favor of anything you can do in-house, rather than sending it back and forth to another state.”

The request was approved and sent on to the Quorum Court’s Committee of 13 for its Dec. 14 meeting and then to the full Quorum Court on Dec. 16.