guest commentary by Jerry Huff, Sebastian County election coordinator
To borrow the title line from an old movie, Sebastian County will go “Back to the Future” when it begins tabulating votes precinct-by-precinct after the Nov. 2 General Election.
The precinct is the basic building block not only for elections but also for representative government. Indeed, the ballots in the first election after Sebastian County’s founding in 1851 almost certainly were counted by hand in each precinct after the polls closed with the results and ballots delivered to the courthouse.
As the county grew, new precincts were added. The idea was for each precinct to grow until it had approximately the same number of voters as others with a semblance of balance restored every 10 years using data from the just-completed U.S. Census.
Over time urbanization and technology coalesced to change election procedure. Several precincts could be grouped at one polling site and votes tabulated by machine before delivery to the courthouse.
Today, Sebastian County has 91 precincts attached to 45 polling sites in different areas of the county. Most polling sites have only one or two precincts with notable exceptions such as Creekmore Park with four precincts and the high-growth Rye Hill area with nine precincts. Rye Hill, no doubt, will be split into at least two polling sites as part of redistricting next year.
Modern politics forced most states back to precinct-by-precinct vote tabulation several years ago, with many states – primarily the larger, most heavily populated – never straying. After all, political parties, pollsters, political scientists and junkies, candidates, office holders and, most importantly, lobbyists, want access to the demographic profiles of voters precinct-by-precinct, not the skewed results from a group of precincts.
Pulaski County, which uses the same voting equipment as Sebastian, returned to precinct-by-precinct vote tabulation four years ago when the federal government forced just about every county in the country to purchase new voting machines (and picked up 95% of the tab with states paying the remaining 5%). Since then, the state and federal governments have “encouraged” Sebastian County to do the same.
The final straw came when the Arkansas Secretary of State told Sebastian County its Nov. 2 General Election results would not transfer to the statewide web totals unless they were tabulated precinct-by-precinct. Also, look for the Arkansas General Assembly to pass a law next year requiring precinct-by-precinct vote tabulation.
If you vote at your polling place on Nov. 2, nothing will change. You will have your choice of marking a paper ballot and running it through a tabulator before leaving or using an electronic voting machine.
Early voting is another matter. Each Sebastian paper ballot tabulator memory card will hold a maximum of 10 precincts, which means it would take 10 of the machines to tabulate votes from the 91 precincts – the number of machines doubles when you consider that early voting occurs in two courthouses. Each machine can handle up to 35 different ballots, more than enough for the max of 25 needed under Sebastian County’s current method of voting.
The electronic voting machines used in Sebastian County can handle the 91 ballots needed for all precincts. So early voting in Sebastian County will be only by electronic voting machine, the same method as that used in Pulaski County. Incidentally, voting in neighboring Crawford County is all electronic.
Ten electronic voting machines will be set up for early voting in the Sebastian County Courthouse. Five will be set up in Greenwood.
Vote as you please on Nov. 2, but please vote.