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Sebastian County Election Commissioners talk polling site changes

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

A Tuesday (April 1) meeting of the Sebastian County Election Commission provided information on complaints about the consolidation of polling sites in rural Sebastian County, as well as the look for a new election coordinator following the resignation of former Election Coordinator David Mansell.

The polling site consolidation involved moving 7,142 voters from previous sites to newly consolidated, existing sites and was approved at the commission's Feb. 27 meeting.

Since that time, the commission has fielded several phone calls from residents in the Bloomer community who are upset that their precinct was closed, requiring a further drive for many of the 500 voters in the community. According to Election Commission Chairman Lee Webb, he has fielded 18 calls about the consolidations, with 13 of those being residents in the Bloomer community.

While some locations, including Central City, were under consideration for consolidation before Bloomer, Webb said laws dictate that incorporated cities and towns must have at least one polling site. With Bloomer not being an incorporated city or town, it made the list — a list which itself had been narrowed from 13 possible sites to seven, he said.

Due to the number of complaints about the polling site at Bloomer, Webb said the commission would reconsider the site closure following the May 20 primary and possible runoff election three weeks later, adding that the commission would be able to compare stats from the last election and the upcoming May 20 primary to determine if a reversal of the commission's Feb. 27 decision should take place.

"I told them we would readdress the Bloomer site and see if there was anything else could do there, see if it affects the turnout much in that area there. We'll be able to tell by the precinct number how it affected the turnout and we'll look at that. That will be the best gage if it affected anything. We'll look at that precinct number from Bloomer and see if they turned out and went to Union or if it was just a select group of people."

Webb added that the calls from Bloomer caught his interest, especially considering the lack of calls from larger precincts that were consolidated within Fort Smith and other areas.

"Because even larger precincts, I got fewer phone calls on. Like Haven Heights, you'd think I'd get a bunch of phone calls on, but I just got the one from a lady who was concerned she was in a different Senate district now."

County Judge David Hudson was on hand at Tuesday's meeting and addressed the search for a new election coordinator, following the resignation of newly-hired Election Coordinator David Mansell less than two weeks ago. Mansell resigned following a series of errors, which included getting the order of candidates for lieutenant governor wrong on the Republican ballot as well as misspelling the last name of U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who is one of three Republican candidates for the lieutenant governor's post. Hudson said the search is ongoing for a new election coordinator, which he said would ideally begin work before the end of April. In the absence of an election coordinator, former Election Coordinator Jerry Huff has agreed to stay on through certification of the May 20 primary election.

Webb also said even in light of the errors attributed to Mansell that resulted in a re-printing of Republican ballots at a cost of $5,200, ballots would still be delivered by April 3. In all, there will be 18,345 Republican ballots, 8,980 Democratic ballots and 1,423 non-partisan ballots, which Huff said was based on the previous election's voting totals.

Huff also briefly addressed a lawsuit in Pulaski County, where that county's election commission has received conflicting information from the state Board of Election Commissioners and the Attorney General's office on how to count absentee ballots. The Board adopted a rule that allows absentee voters time to prove their identity, while Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in February that those voters should not be given additional time because it is not clearly spelled out in the law.

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Huff said the state board's rule is binding on the Sebastian County Election Commission, though the attorney general's opinion would give commission "sovereign immunity," protecting the commission from a lawsuit should it need to.

A ruling on the lawsuit is expected before the May 20 primary, though it could be delayed should the Republican Party of Arkansas be successful in having McDaniel's office removed from defending the law it wrote a legal opinion against. The Arkansas GOP requested to represent the state board on March 26 and also filed a proposed motion which would dismiss the Pulaski County Election Commission's lawsuit. No decision on representation of the proposed motion has yet been made.

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