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New tech proposed for east Arkansas elections

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FORREST CITY (Times-Herald) - Future elections in St. Francis County could include new technology designed to allow poll workers to confirm voter information using electronic devices.

Commissioners are studying a pair of devices, the Election System & Software ExpressPoll-5000 Electronic Poll Book and the Election Administrators EA Tablet, designed to allow voters to check in faster using computers or tablets. 

"I can definitely see the benefits of using something like this, especially during early voting. Our biggest problem during a busy election is the line of people waiting to get past the books. With both of these, the voter can just come in and swipe their driver's license or ID and then move on, which will definitely make the process faster. Plus, we'd get the added benefit of saving on costs when it comes to printing the books," said Commissioner Chris Oswalt.

Commission Chairman Frederick Freeman said he could see the positives involved with the program but asked commissioners, County Clerk Emily Holley and Election Coordinator Sandra Wright to study information on both systems before any decision is made.

"I think we need to just study it a little more because this could definitely help. We could also field test it at some of the election day sites like the Civic Center where the lines got a little long on election day. I think we have to try to keep looking forward, and as the technology changes, we need to be ready to make changes," said Freeman. 

Commissioners also agreed to work with County Judge Gary Hughes on a $10,732 grant the county is eligible for which must be spent on election-related material. The grant is funded through the state's County Voting System Grant Fund and will pay for voting machines, electronic vote tabulating devices, maintenance of voting system equipment and other voting system equipment.

"This is a grant that the county has to apply for through Judge Hughes. He contacted me about it after he received the information, and we need to look at what we might need to purchase under this grant. If we want to move in this direction with the electronic books or the tablet, I think those would qualify under the grant, but this is something we need to move on. The Quorum Court has to approve a resolution seeking the grant. It must be specific, and the deadline for applying for these funds is March 31, so we have to make a decision so we can get everything to Judge Hughes before the Quorum Court meets," said Freeman.

In other business, commissioners reelected Freeman as the chairman and discussed the possibility of reducing the number of constable positions in the county. Freeman said the county currently has 12 constable positions and 11 Justice of the Peace districts. He said election officials might need to consider requesting those numbers mirror one another. 

"This is something that was first brought to light during redistricting. Jeff (Hawkins, the county's redistricting consultant) pointed it out and suggested that we might consider making those numbers the same, if we could, and just match the district boundaries with the JP districts," said Freeman.

"The problem that we have now is that we have to create a separate precinct just for a portion of Forrest City where the constable lines are different. I know that changing that is something the Quorum Court would have to do, but I think we need to talk to Fletcher (county attorney Fletcher Long) about it and just see what has to be done," said Freeman.

Holley told commissioners there are currently 11 filled constable positions and one vacant position.

"I know that's something that can be done because there are other counties that have reduced the number. Our constable positions are probably the same that we have had since they were first created back in the 1800s," said Oswalt.

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