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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County officials are looking at using vote centers to replace traditional polling sites as early as the March 1, party primary election.

The Election Commission voted unanimously Thursday to pursue adopting a voting center plan. The plan must be approved by the Quorum Court and the Secretary of State's Office before it can be implemented.

Candidate filing

Candidates for office in the March 1, 2016, party primary election will begin to file at noon Monday. The filing period ends at noon Nov. 9.

Source: Benton County Clerk

The plan being considered will decrease election day voting sites from 67 to 46 and end constraints on where county voters can cast ballots. Under state law, if a voting center plan is adopted, voters will be able to vote at any of the approved locations on election day and not be required to vote at the polling place assigned to the precinct they live in.

Russ Anzalone, commission chairman, said in conjunction with the early voting period, when the rules are similar and voters can use any early voting site, the vote center plan should make it easier for county residents to cast ballots.

"This will be a big advantage to the voters, because they can vote in any location for two and a half weeks," Anzalone said.

Anzalone said the vote center plan will reduce the number of poll workers the county needs on election day, saving money, and also reduce the cost of printing paper ballots. The different ballots needed for voter precincts will be available on the county's electronic voting machines.

Kim Dennison, election coordinator, told the commission Benton County will get another 54 electronic voting machines from Garland County. Garland County, along with Boone and Sebastian counties, is participating in a pilot program for the state, testing the next generation of voting machines at the March 1 party primary. If the pilot program is a success, Dennison told the commissioners the state likely will approve the new machines for use in Arkansas' 75 counties for the November 2016 general election.

"I can foresee us having the new equipment by the fall election," Dennison said. "We will not have it for the primary election."

Dennison said the county is buying electronic poll books that will be used in conjunction with the new voting machines. Using electronic poll books is also a state requirement for the use of vote centers. The poll books, replacing paper books with lists of voters names and voter information, will be tied into a live database showing which ballot the voter should receive. Electronic poll books also will show in real time if a person already has voted in an election, reducing the chance of someone casting multiple ballots.

The commissioners discussed the work needed to implement the plan in time for the March primary and voted to proceed. Commissioner Mike Sevak asked Dennison if the county can make the plan work in the time allowed.

"I may be working late hours through the month of December, but we will make it work," Dennison said. "I have a good staff."

Commissioner John Brown Jr. thinks the county should adopt the vote center model.

"I'm all for going the way we're talking about," he said. "Going with the voter centers and using all the early vote locations we can get. I'm all in favor of it."

NW News on 10/30/2015

Print Headline: County officials favor vote center plan

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