After other counties have already made the move to vote centers, it is possible Sebastian County may follow in their footsteps.
Sebastian County Election Commission Chairman David Damron said the commission will go over its proposal to go to vote centers during its next meeting May 25. The proposal will eventually be presented to the Sebastian County Quorum Court for approval.
“We’re going to come up with a written proposal to submit to the quorum court, and if they approve it, that exact same proposal then gets submitted to the Arkansas secretary of state, so those are the two next steps ...,” Damron said.
Damron said if the secretary of state approves the election commission’s proposal, Sebastian County will then be able to have vote centers. In contrast to being limited to a preassigned, precinct-specific polling site on Election Day, voters could have the option of casting their ballots at any open site in the county.
The election commission held a series of public meetings earlier this year to educate county residents on vote centers, as well as answer questions on the subject. The first public meeting was held in Greenwood on March 28, which was followed by a second meeting in Fort Smith on March 30 and a final meeting in Lavaca on April 6. During the meeting in Greenwood, Damron said 10 counties in Arkansas already use vote centers, including Benton, Washington, Faulkner and Saline counties.
Meghan Hassler, the Sebastian County election coordinator, said the general attitude from the public about the idea of vote centers in Sebastian County was positive during all the meetings, with residents being very excited about it. However, Damron said one concern brought up by participants during the meeting in Greenwood was the possibility of a local polling site being closed as part of the election commission's proposal. The reason for closing polling sites in the county is the commission doesn't know where voters are ultimately going to vote if vote centers are established.
“... And so we’re going to have to move some equipment from sites that have had historically low turnout to sites that have historically had large turnout, and so closing some sites will give us that additional equipment without the quorum court having to appropriate additional funds,” Damron said.
This issue was also brought up during the meeting in Lavaca, although Damron said the only person who said anything about it was positive.
“They felt like the convenience of being able to vote anywhere far outweighed the possibility that a polling site might get closed," Damron said.
Hassler said the election commission will be unable to know where people will vote until after a full election cycle has taken place.
Sebastian County currently has 37 polling sites. Damron speculated no more than three or four will be closed as part of the election commission's proposal for vote centers. It will take a unanimous vote from the three county election commissioners to close a polling site.
"As far as the plan, we've taken a plan from (Washington and Benton counties), and we've written ours from that," Damron said. "And part of it lists the polling sites that are going to be open. ... (A)t the moment, we've got them all listed as open, but there will be open discussion at this May meeting that's coming up just to which sites are going to be removed from that."
The plan to go to vote centers in Sebastian County was described by Hassler as being close to done.
"You have to lay out your plan on what kind of equipment you'll be using, how you connect to the Internet and your secure connections," Hassler said. "We have to provide the statistics of the ... voter turnout for every polling place because a lot of it's talking about the equipment and how we can do it to service the voters to where it isn't going to be a problem. ..."
Damron said he hopes the election commission will be able to present its plan to the Sebastian County Quorum Court during a meeting in June.