Commissioners Review Voting Options
The Morning News. 08 June 2005. By Joseph Askins
BENTONVILLE Benton County will not have many choices in its transition to electronic voting next year, but county residents will have a chance this week to comment on how the Arkansas Secretary of State proceeds.
Election Commission Chairman John Brown told Benton County's finance committee the panel will hold a public hearing Friday to explain how Benton County can comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.
A letter from Secretary of State Charlie Daniels last month asked the commission to review three options for replacing Benton County's punch-card ballots with electronic and optical voting systems.
Daniels will decide which solution is appropriate for the county, but Election Coordinator Jim McCarthy said Daniels' letter asked commissioners to weigh in on his options.
McCarthy told the county's finance committee he believes most counties prefer a solution that would install one electronic voting machine at every polling place. The electronic machines would be used mainly by disabled voters, with most voters making their ions on paper ballots.
Election officials would bring their sites' machines and ballots back to the Election Commission's office after polls close, and commissioners would count the paper ballots with an optical scanner.
This remedy would cost approximately $368,000, all of which would be paid from state and federal funds, according to the letter from Daniels. The Voting Act requires Benton County educate voters about the new system, but McCarthy said the method would be simple for anyone familiar with the old punch-card ballots.
"If they know how to fill in ovals (with a pen), that's all they'll have to do," McCarthy said.
The other options listed in Daniels' letter would require multiple voting machines and optical scanners at every polling site. One option would even require the county to pay for machines not covered by state and federal funds.
McCarthy said the county would also face more costs "downstream" if the state requires multiple machines at every polling site. Electronic voting machines require constant software maintenance and must be stored in climate-controlled areas.
The county would need to rent or purchase trucks or vans to move voting machines and optical scanners to and from Benton County's 80 polling sites, said McCarthy. Through the county's preferred solution, an election official could easily transport his site's single machine and ballots in the back seat of a car.
The public hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. June 3 in the Benton County Quorum Courtroom in the County Administration Building in Bentonville.