Quorum Court officially nixes voting center proposal for November
Discussion turns to dust- up between justices, election commission
Crittenden County Quorum Court has closed the door — at least this year — on switching polling places to vote centers where any voter can cast their ballot regardless of where they are registered.
Members of the county Election Commission appeared before the court to make their case again for vote centers.
Election Commission Chairwoman Dixie Carlson said they wanted to bring the issue up again because Justice Stacy Allen appeared to endorse the idea.
“Last Thursday we had a commission meeting and Justice Allen attended the meeting and initiated some of the merits of vote centers,” Carlson said. “And he also suggested that we have vote centers in West Memphis. Your (election) commission is asking to have vote centers in every one of our polling sites.”
Allen said he did not tell the Election Commission that he wanted vote centers. He said he showed up at their meeting to ask them to consider having early voting sites in Earle and West Memphis — not vote centers.
“I didn’t call it a vote center,” Allen said. “I asked for an early voting in Earle and West Memphis. That’s a big difference between a vote center.”
Carlson said the Election Commission interpreted his remarks as supporting vote centers.
“You did say something about the merits of a vote center and that you would like to see vote centers,” Carlson said.
Allen disputed that claim.
“I’m going to tell you what I said since y’all don’t record your meetings,” Allen said. “I didn’t ask them to come back with this. I came because I wanted to see how they operate and I had a suggestion. I said you have talked about vote centers. I said ‘why don’t you try doing early voting in West Memphis at the Civic Center and maybe early voting in Earle to see how those numbers compare, and then see if you want to do vote centers later down the road as a test case.” That’s what I asked you. I didn’t say come here and ask for vote centers. I said to ask for early voting.”
“You did expand on the merits of vote centers,” Carlson responded.
“I said you could compare that to vote centers,” Allen continued. “I said let’s see if we can try and have early voting in West Memphis and Earle. Those were my words.”
Justice Kenneth Cross pointed out that the Quorum Court has already said no to the idea.
“Did we or did we not address this several months ago?” said Justice Kenneth Cross. “We have dealt with that.”
County Judge Woody Wheeless said he put the Election Commission on the monthly agenda because they wanted to address the body.
“They contacted me to be on the agenda because they wanted to come back and discuss this,” Wheeless said.
Cross again shut the door on moving to vote centers.
“We have dealt with that,” Cross said. “Am I right or am I right?”
“We have, but here again, is this something new you want to even consider today?” Wheeless asked.
“No,” said Justice Vickie Robertson.
“We have dealt with that,” Cross repeated.
“So you’re telling me that the door is closed for vote centers in Crittenden County?” Carlson said.
“For this year,” Robertson said. “The polling places have been set for this year.
So it will not be covered for the November elections because we already voted on it.”
Wheeless attributed the confusion to miscommunication. The Democratic Central Commission did discuss vote centers, he said.
“Yes, they have already acted on it for now,” Whee- less said. “But I believe Justice Allen’s information came from the DCC meeting when a gentleman from Forrest City came and they actually have two early voting sites. I think that’s where this conversation comes from. But they didn’t call them vote centers.”
Justice Hubert Bass said while he likes the idea of vote centers, he doesn’t trust the Republican controlled Election Commission. He accused them of closing polling sites in predominantly
neighborhoods to deliberately suppress the black vote.
“The vote center is good on its own,” Bass said.
“But their plan was to close those precincts in those communities. That’s why I say it is not a good idea with this particular election commission because nationwide the Republican Party has been doing everything they can to stifle votes. This is a Republican majority election commission.”
Carlson disagreed that there was any political motivation in their decision to close certain polling sites.
The Election Commission had previously explained to the Court that they moved some sites to get them out of public schools and that using churches is more convenient.
“There is nothing political or sinister,” Carlson said. “
The motivation for early voting is strictly the convenience of the voter.
That’s what we look at. We are your election commission. We are your friends.
Don’t you believe me?”
“Thank you for saying so,” Bass said. “But no.”
Robertson said changing to vote centers mid-election would cause confusion. She said she would like more time to study vote centers and educate the voters.
“We’ve got two years before a major election to implement
it,” Robertson said.
“If we do it now, we just changed polling places in May. And now we’re talking about changing to vote centers. The problem with that is you are causing too much confusion.”
Justice Lorenzo Parker said he is favor of vote centers, but agrees with Robertson that they need time to plan it properly.
“I like the idea of being able to go anywhere to vote,” Parker said. “I think we need to put all options on the table. We only had five percent turnout for our spring primary. That’s ridiculous for a county our size. I think all options ought to be on the table to get our turnout up. I think this is something we can discuss in the future.”
By Mark Randall