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Washington County officials learn Senate District 35 map excludes some voters

by Tom Sissom | March 25, 2022 at 7:28 a.m.
"I Voted" stickers for early voters Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at the Benton County Election Commission office in Rogers.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County election officials learned Thursday the county has a unique place among the state's 75 counties as they prepare for the May 24 primary election.

Jennifer Price, executive director of the Election Commission, said state officials had found a discrepancy between the maps showing the state Senate District 35 boundaries and the legal descriptions of the district.

"They told me we're the only one in the state," Price said.

According to Price, the Senate District 35 maps were drawn in a way excluding 29 households that should be in the district, according to the legal descriptions.

"We don't know how many voters that will be, since a household doesn't always correlate to a number of voters," Price said Thursday.

Price said state election officials are trying to determine how to correct the discrepancy and she has been told to wait for guidance. Price said if needed, the area can be included in a Cane Hill precinct for voting purposes.

She said the households can be identified, and any voters will receive the correct ballots.

Senate District 35 covers northwest Washington County and includes the cities of Farmington, Prairie Grove and Lincoln.

Renee Oelschlaeger, Election Commission chairman, said she remembered discussing the potential problem with the district lines last year before the maps were finalized.

Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, said he pointed out the problem to state officials, along with a number of other problems, before the state finalized the maps.

"The House and Senate districts should have followed the same line, but they didn't," Hawkins said. "We pointed out several areas like that, and this was one of them. They fixed some but not this one."

Price said the election maps had some other small problems, creating what she called "200 slivers of nothing."

The boundary lines used by the state sometimes followed unusual paths, she said.

"It might go down the middle of the interstate," Price said. "Sometimes when the lines go through neighborhoods there is a 'sliver' between the house and the street."

Price said incorporating these "slivers of nothing" into voting precincts ended up with the county having 22 precincts with 20 or fewer voters and six precincts with no voters.

"If it's an area where no houses can be built, like in the middle of I-49, we just incorporated those into adjacent precincts," Price said. "If it's an area where there may be a house with no voters currently or a place where a house might be built, we had to create a precinct. That's where we got those six precincts with no voters."

Washington County has 223 precincts after redrawing the lines, she said. In 2020, the county had 154 precincts.

Creating the precincts has also prompted the need to check the boundaries of the Beaver Water District with the new precinct lines. In the past, Price said, voters in a precinct that was included in the Beaver Water District could all vote in elections for the district's Board of Directors. Now the county will have to check the district boundary lines and the new precinct lines to determine if only some voters in a precinct may vote, she said.

Price said she couldn't remember the last time there was a contested race for the district's board, but the work needed to be done in case there's one using the new precinct lines.

Voting precincts

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Precincts are districts created to administer elections including the counting of votes, according to Jennifer Price, executive director of the Washington County Election Commission. Precincts divide voters according to the boundaries of larger election districts including those for state House and Senate seats, quorum court districts, city wards, school district zones and constable districts. Before the state approved the use of vote centers in 2014, allowing registered voters to vote anywhere in the county, voters were required to vote in the polling place assigned to their precinct.

Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette


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