Winter weather worries Benton County election officials

BENTONVILLE -- Switching to vote centers from traditional polling sites will add flexibility in severe weather or emergencies, Benton County election officials said.

The Election Commission continued to work on its inclement weather plan Thursday. The commission has become more concerned about severe weather since the 2016 primary election was moved to March 1 from the traditional May election date.

Commissioners reviewed proposals to get election workers to the polls, provide workers with up-to-date information in emergencies and communicate with the public about possible vote center closings or late openings.

"It's all up for discussion," said Russ Anzalone, commission chairman. "These are all just part of contingency planning in case something does happen."

Mike Sevak, election commissioner, wants the policy broadened to cover other types of emergencies.

"How would we respond if it was a fire in a vote center?" Sevak said. "I have asked about an emergency plan since September, and it looks to me like all we're getting is for inclement weather."

John Brown, election commissioner, said some part of any emergency response, whether it's for a fire or other emergency, has to rely on common sense and election workers knowing what to do.

"The poll workers should know what equipment to move out to a car or to the parking lot without being told," Brown said.

Kim Dennison, election coordinator, has access to the county's BC Alert system and is working to get election workers signed up for it. By using the alert system, Dennison can generate messages directed to elections workers. Dennison also is working with the Information Technology Department to get election information posted on the county's website.

"I have access to put that information out there," Dennison said of the alert system. "I can even do it from my phone. If we make that decision to close a poll wherever I am I can make it happen."

There is less concern now about closing individual polling places with the adoption of vote centers, Dennison said. With all ballot styles available at all vote centers closing a single location won't prevent anyone from voting.

NW News on 01/22/2016

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