Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners Stu Soffer and Mike Adam discussed a proposed budget request of $926,000 with County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV and election coordinator Efrem Elliott at a Friday meeting.
Commissioner Cynthia Sims did not attend the meeting, and Adam and Soffer did not submit a budget request because they want Sims to be present to give her input and vote on the matter. Soffer showed an old piece of equipment related to running an election and described it to Wilkins and Elliott, who is also police chief in the town of Gould and a former Arkansas state representative.
“The key is avoiding lines on election days,” Soffer said. “If we have insufficient equipment, we are going to have lines. The current equipment is like an old car. If we consolidate polling sites, we need less equipment. We want to avoid lines.”
On a related subject of proposed voting centers, Adam said any Jefferson County resident would be able to vote in a voting center. Adam said this is different from the current set-up of polling sites where a citizen votes in one fixed location.
“We can consolidate a few voting sites and give better service to the voters,” Soffer said.
Soffer said there were 41 polling sites in the September school board election and that some polling sites attracted fewer than 60 voters. He said he wants to consolidate from 41 polling sites to 30 polling sites to save a total of $220,000 or $20,000 per polling site.
“The former Sears building had only 14 percent voter turnout,” Soffer said of the Arkansas River Educational Services Cooperative building. “We can consolidate voting sites to provide better service to voters.”
“We cannot justify keeping Swan Lake open in the general election,” Soffer said.
Soffer said he developed an itemized budget in 2018. Adam recommended listing the coordinator but without specifying a salary. On the discussion about the budget, Wilkins told Soffer and Adam: “We want to do it in as professional way of possible and have those numbers so that we are not saying ‘this is what you are going to need.’ You know more about what you are going to need than we do.”
In another discussion, Soffer said he does not want to spend money to repair broken equipment that is going to be discarded. Soffer said there will be two elections in 2018 with a primary election in May and a general election in November.
On the subject of communications, Adam told Wilkins and Elliott to email him rather than call so there is a written record of communications. Adam said the election commission will hold another public meeting to approve its budget request.
Soffer requested $926,000 to buy new election equipment rather than spending money to replace broken equipment that will be discarded anyway. Soffer said he needs 133 Avotronics voting machines to hold the 2018 elections.
On the subject of the White Hall School District election, Soffer said the law requires the school districts to tell the election commissioners by January if they want to hold the school board elections in conjunction with the May primary or the November general election.
“It’s in their best interest to do it in conjunction with the November general election,” Soffer said. “That way if they want to do a millage issue some time during the year, they have until November to do it. If they opt to go with the May primary, if they decide to do a millage issue, they cannot do it in June, July or August. White Hall opted to go with May for the primary. If they go with May, we are dead in the water. Our machines cannot deal with it. It’s just a nightmare.”
Soffer said White Hall School Board members can still move their district’s election to November 2018.