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Wheeless asks public to weigh in on polling centers

Wheeless asks public to weigh in on polling centers

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County looking at options for voting during COVID- 19 pandemic

[email protected] With the 2020 Elections a little more than three months away, Crittenden County officials are looking at the safest and most efficient way to conduct voting.

“With COVID-19 appearing to be with us for the rest of the year, I want to conduct an unscientific poll for voting during the November General Election,” County Judge Woody Wheeless said in a Facebook post last Friday.

“The election, as in past elections, is very important, and I encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote, either in person or by absentee ballot.”

The main issue Wheeless wanted to receive input on from the community in the possible use of polling centers, rather than depending entirely on the traditional district-based polling site model.

“Currently, we have polling locations, and depending on where you live is (what determines) what location you go to vote,” Wheeless explained. “Sometimes, that can be very confusing, especially if you have moved and didn't change your voter address prior to an election.”

Wheeless pointed out that many locations around the country are shifting to the use of polling centers for their elections.

“Polling Centers are now being considered as an addition to polling locations across the United States,” said Wheeless, before asking a question for those not in the know.

What is a polling center?

“It's a location where anyone can come to and vote regardless of where they live in the county,” explained Wheeless. “The concept is to provide convenience and accessibility for everyone who wishes to vote.”

Is the line at your polling precinct too long? Would it be more convenient to get to a polling center because of work or other obligations on Election Day?

“My question is: Do you think Polling Centers are a good idea?” Wheeless asked. “Yes or No?”

The Quorum Court has previously considered a move to add polling centers to the county’s elections. In 2017, justices debated the issue ahead of the 2018 elections.

State law gives the local election commission sole authority to adjust or close polling locations, but to implement vote centers would require and ordinance and approval from the Quorum Court.

Two years ago, the county election commission brought the Quorum Court a proposal to cut the number of polling sites from 24 to 12 and to make each one a vote center.

Justices rejected the plan over concerns that closing polling sites could reduce voter turnout, especially in the eastern, predominantly poorer neighborhoods in West Memphis where several of the polling sites

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would have been closed.

Wheeless did not indicate whether the quorum court would be asked to consider such an ordinance for 2020. He said he was simply looking to gauge the public’s opinion on the issue.

“Thank you for participating!” Wheeless said at the end of his post, and people certainly participated.

Within the first five hours of the post going live, the post generated more than 200 comments and responses.

Mike Bell asked, “For someone that preaches masks and social distance, would it not be better to have several places instead of just one center? I believe for this year there should be more places set up to make people more comfortable to come out and vote.”

“That’s what is wanting to be done,” explained Wheeless. “Multiple locations.”

“I say ‘yes’ for voting centers,” said Bell. “Maybe more locations for early voting or open early voting up even earlier.”

Pat Nave was in favor of the idea, “So long as there is a control to prevent someone from voting in both places.”

“Controls are in place to prevent that,” said Wheeless.

Voters trying to cast multiple ballots seemed to be a concern for several people, apparently unaware of modern polling practices and the technology that would prevent such a thing. Lisa Wilson said, “I love the idea, but would polling centers replace voting locations (i.e. fire station or courthouse)? If not, it seems they’d be an easy attempt for folks to try to vote more than once.”

Wheeless put those concerns

“They wouldn't necessarily replace polling locations,” he explained. “And with electronic books, once you sign cast a vote if you went to another location and tried to vote again the records would show you've already voted.”

Rosemary Wyse was in favor of the move, with one caveat.

“I think as long as you have polling centers in economically depressed area too,” she said. “People may not have the ability to travel a larger distance. It discourages some people to vote.”

Election Commissioner Frank Barton weighed in with additional information.

“The plan by the local Election Commission is for all the current poll locations to be designated as a vote center,” he said. “It makes voting easier for the voter. Security is already in place to prevent someone from voting more than once.”

Carla Estabrook added, “I plan on early voting. I think polling centers are a great idea, as long as safety precautions are in place.

Either way, I see no problem.”

“Yes,” said Marilyn Carlson, “with polling centers, the normal polling locations and absentee ballots, I think we would be adequately covered.”

Dana Green thought the move to polling centers would simplify voting and voter confusion.

“Absolutely,” she said. “We lose so many voters because they get frustrated not knowing where to go.”

Some, though, were on the fence.

“Not sure,” said Susan Burkett. “If we have early voting, do we need polling centers? This may be the largest election voting turnout in our history! If people want to vote they will do so early or on the day! Which would you do?

Should we go to the expense of polling centers ? Should we chance some kind of mix up? Anything is possible ! Early voting is my way to vote!”

Gayla Allen said, “It is not like we are a huge city where it would be difficult to go to your polling location.

center.”

Wheeless said, “With COVID-19, the thought is to try to encourage people to get out and vote, and this is an added option you could use, say, maybe on the way to the grocery store.”

Elizabeth Butler said, “I think this would be awesome!

the excessive lines and gathering at the courthouse for early voting also.”

Angela Bratton said, “Yes! I'm all for it. People need to walk in and cast their ballot. No mail-in voting.”

Others took the same stance.

“As long as we do not have to do a mail-in vote,” said Cindy Williams. “I don't care where I go to vote.”

Wheeless noted, “With the virus, mail-in ballots will probably be used more this election than ever because many people don't want to be in large crowds.”

While no firm decision has been made on the issue, one voting concern is already being discussed — the moving of early voting away from the confines of the Crittenden County courthouse, something that was outlined after another question.

Jim Cosgrove asked, “How do they plan to manage traffic at the courthouse through that long narrow hallway? There appears to only be one way in and out. A different polling place may be better for distancing.”

explained, “We will not be conducting Early Voting at the courthouse. The Election Commission decided several months ago that we needed to move to another location.”

Do you know where the early voting will take place?” asked Stacy Allen.

“The Election Commission has not finalized the location,” Barton said, “but it will be larger than the previous location and will be much easier to separate machines and voters.”

Of the respondents who answered Wheeless’s straw poll, 54 were in favor of the polling centers, with 4 against and three simply “not sure” of their preference.

Early voting in Arkansas begins Monday, Oct. 18 and runs through Monday, Nov. 2. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

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