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City officials want answers over voting problems

story by Tabatha Gardner
tgardner@thecitywire.com

BENTONVILLE — Election Day in Benton County was punctuated with long lines, broken voting machines and a shortage of paper ballots. The day ended with local officials asking questions about how to improve the county's election process.

Still, the biggest issue for many was that as of 2 p.m. all of the ballots had yet to be counted.

"We only had three voting machines and we ran out of paper ballots," Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree said, noting that many voters were still waiting to cast their ballots after 10 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 6).

Four voting machines were delivered to the Pea Ridge polling place. One did not work.

Crabtree said he plans to go to the county's Election Commission to look for other options for voters. Some of the options Crabtree plans to propose include an early voting location in Pea Ridge.

Mayor Bill Edwards of Centerton mirrored Crabtree's concerns.

"Six machines for 10,000 people doesn't seem right to me," Edwards said, calling the situation Tuesday night depressing.

Edwards emailed Election Commission officials around 11 p.m. Tuesday night (Nov. 6) after seeing many of his constituents in line until after 10 p.m. Edwards asked that the county consider opening additional polling locations with more voting machines for the next election.

That e-mail was still unanswered at 4 p.m. Thursday (Nov 8).

John Brown, chairman of the Election Commission, is also examining Tuesday's events.

"Voter demand and interest was larger than we expected," Brown said.

One point of trouble on Election Day, Brown said, was the county's ballot on demand system stopped working. The ballot on demand system prints paper ballots as needed for voters.

It is designed to print 500 ballots. It printed 3,000 Tuesday and began to misprint, Brown said.

The ballot on demand printer was adopted by previous Election Commission officials in 2010 in order to save money on printing costs and to purchase additional voting machines.

Then commissioner Tim Hutchinson expressed his concern over the move to cut paper ballots, saying in 2010, "I don't want to tell voters we are out of paper ballots so you either vote electronically or you do not vote."

The county ran out of paper ballots mid-day Tuesday so voters were forced to either wait in long lines to cast an electronic ballot or walk away without voting. Another problem was a shortage of electronic voting machines. The county has 254 machines and needs between 100 and 150 more, Brown said.

Getting funding for the machines and paper ballots is going to be a challenge. The machines cost around $2,200 each and paper ballots costs 30¢ each, Brown said.

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Brown said he plans to ask the county's Quorum Court for funding to purchase the new machines.

Brown said he hoped to finish counting ballots sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, thanks, in part, to Washington County officials loaning Benton County their ballot counting machines.

Benton County posted the final vote count at 4:08 p.m. on Thursday, some 44 hours after the polls closed on Election Day, according to the county website.

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