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Benton County Election Comission Budget Cut

by Tom Sissom | August 30, 2014 at 1:30 a.m.

BENTONVILLE -- Election officials exceeded the target of a 3 percent cut in their tentative 2015 budget, but they said the final costs may be beyond their control.

Benton County's Election Commission drafted a preliminary budget for 2015 at its Friday meeting. Costs were based on the 2013 budget, a similar "off year" for elections. The commission and staff estimated the election budget for 2015 at about $260,000 compared with $298,000 for 2013.

At A Glance

Voter Turnout

Dana Caler, election administrator for the Benton County Clerk’s Office, said Friday she projects turnout for the general election Nov. 4 at 64,928. That’s 51 percent of registered voters. There are 127,310 registered voters in the county and about 110,000 active voters, Caler said. In 2010, the county had 105,792 registered voters, and 53,684 people voted in the general election, which was 51 percent of registered voters, Caler said.

Source: Staff Report

"That's 13 percent," Robbyn Tumey, election commissioner, said after the work session was done.

Tumey raised the prospect earlier in the meeting any election budget drafted by the county could be subject to change if the state decides to adopt new voting machines.

"If we're going to be forced to make a decision either to buy more ES&S machines or another vendor's, how do we include that?" she asked.

The voting machines the county uses were made by Election Systems & Software, county officials said. The company no longer produces those machines. State and federal officials are considering new voting machines and systems.

"We'll just have to say there may be new voting machines," John Brown Jr., commission chairman, said Friday. "We do not know what they'll cost or who will pay for them."

Russ Anzalone, election commissioner, said the county has about 260 electronic voting machines now. If new machines are mandated, the county needs to consider how many are needed, he said.

"We should probably ask for more than 260 machines," he said.

Refurbished machines of the type used by the county can be bought for about $2,500 each, according to information discussed Friday. If the county could buy 300 new machines at that cost the total would be about $750,000, Anzalone said. The state paid much of the cost when the ES&S machines were obtained and might do so again if new machines are required, Tumey said.

"We won't be responsible for the total cost," she said.

Kim Dennison, election coordinator, said the state paid for about 211 voting machines when they were first purchased. The county later bought 50 more machines.

Voter numbers have grown substantially since the county obtained the machines now in use, Tumey said.

"We've had an additional 22,000 registered voters since 2010," Tumey said. "That's probably bigger than half the counties in the state -- just the increase."

Brown said he didn't like to cut the budget when election needs continue to grow.

"We did what we were supposed to do," he said. "But I'm not happy with having to cut everything."

"This will get us through the next election cycle," Dennison said.

The Quorum Court needs to be aware of the potential for increased costs as it drafts the 2015 budget, Tumey said.

"We'll just put a line item in there for the Finance Committee that we may be facing these expenses," she said. "Not by choice, but by force."

NW News on 08/30/2014

Print Headline: County Election Budget Cut

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