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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County received $1.2 million from state taxpayers Thursday to reimburse half the cost of new voting machines purchased in 2017.

The money comes from Act 808 of 2019. The law transferred $8.24 million from the state's Property Tax Relief Fund, which had a surplus, to the County Voting System Grant Fund administered by the secretary of state's office.

The money goes to help counties upgrade equipment or reimburse a share of the cost of recent upgrades.

The Quorum Court approved spending $2.4 million to replace the voting machines. The 2017 purchase included 475 voting machines, 65 ballot counters and 150 printers.

Mechanical issues affected 16 of the 489 machines in the Nov. 8, 2016, election. All the equipment in use then was at least 11 years old. About half the machines could no longer be covered by maintenance contracts.

Washington County bought new voting machines in 2016 with the state paying $1 million of the $1.65 million for 357 machines. The reimbursement was in part because Washington County participated in a pilot program to test the equipment.

Benton County was notified the reimbursement was coming in an Aug. 8 letter from Secretary of State John Thurston.

"Please be advised that these funds, as per our understanding with the General Assembly and Gov. [Asa] Hutchinson, are to be used exclusively for costs associated with the purchase of new voting machine equipment."

County Judge Barry Moehring said Thursday, "We are thankful to the state's commitment for ensuring a secure voting experience with the updated voting equipment."

Fifty-four Arkansas counties had new voting equipment in November's general election, Hutchinson said in a news release.

The $8.24 million will be used to buy equipment for the remaining 21 counties and reimburse three counties half of what they spent to buy new equipment, said Kurt Naumann, director of administration and legislative affairs in the office.

The secretary of state's office estimated the 21 counties' share of new voting machines will be $6.79 million, so the total spent will be about $15 million, Naumann said.

The state's property tax relief fund is financed by a half-cent sales tax imposed to make up for lost local school district revenue from a homestead exemption on property taxes. That exemption passed in 1999. It allows a credit of up to $350 on the property taxes owed on a privately owned home. The associated sales tax had more than made up for the lost property tax revenue for years, creating the surplus.

The bill that became Act 808 passed the House, 86-3, in a March 28 vote. The Senate approved the final version in a unanimous 35-0 vote April 4.

Metro on 08/19/2019

Print Headline: $1.2M from state aids county with voting machines

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