"Voting is a civic sacrament."
-- Theodore Hesburgh, president, University of Notre Dame
What’s the point?
Benton County officials faced with a lack of expected funding from the state should still aggressively pursue funding the county’s new voting system.
If Father Hesburgh's ritualistic symbolism about elections is correct, Benton County voters may face the equivalent of stale bread and watered down wine at the 2018 ballot box.
County leaders are thrilled with the idea of an upgraded voting system, but their exhilaration waned recently with the news funding from state government may not come through. Gov. Asa Hutchinson had been expected to release several million dollars with Benton County's electoral needs among the top to be funded. But he recently announced other priorities in state spending may be delayed and very well may not come at all.
That news dampened enthusiasm for Benton County's upgrade. Now there's talk of going back to paper ballots and precinct-level voting that requires residents to cast their ballots at specific polling places. Most recently, the county has moved toward a decentralized voting system that can allow voters to pick a polling place anywhere in the county, go in and cast a ballot that's the right one for where they live.
The modern system approved by the secretary of state is electronic, making it easy to provide a ballot from anywhere in the county. That requires fewer polling places with fewer poll workers, but more flexibility for voters. It also adds more capacity for early voting.
But the Benton County Quorum Court lives to protect its reserves and longs to use money from other sources for its projects. It's a fiscally responsible approach. Still, a lack of available state money should not distract the Quorum Court members from a drive to modernize the election system.
This is one of those times county leaders should stop dithering and pony up the money necessary to ensure county election officials are prepared for the 2018 elections.
James Buchanan said "The ballot box is the surest arbiter of disputes among free men." And an insufficient election system is a sure cause of such disputes.
Benton County's penchant for squeezing every dime, nickel and penny is a valuable trait, but it costs money to run county government effectively. And 2018 promises to be a complex election season. Why does one have a rainy day fund? To avoid getting drenched with the kinds of problems the county can expect by reverting to paper ballots and the old system.
To further complicate matters, state laws have changed to allow school board elections to be held on the same day as primary and general elections beginning in 2018. That exponentially increases the number of ballot combinations across the county. Handling that with modern electronic voting machines is far easier and convenient for voters than actually trying to print up the more than 1,000 different ballots that would be necessary.
Let's commend our county leaders for operating in such a way that they have reserve funds -- $14 million in unallocated reserves -- to give it flexibility when needed. In terms of replacing the county's outdated system, this is one of those times. Using somewhere between $1.5 million and $2.5 million to ensure reliable and convenient voting in 2018 seems the right way to go.
Voters like the conveniences the modern system affords. When it boils down to it, there are few things among the duties of county government more important than providing a trustworthy and effective election system so that Benton County residents can take up their democratic duties.
How well voting goes in 2018 can be cleared up easily with a single vote of the Benton County Quorum Court.
We know how we'd vote.
Commentary on 09/03/2017
Print Headline: Vote 'yes' for voting