The Jefferson County Quorum Court on Thursday adopted a 2018 budget that calls for spending just over $8.3 million, but two members of the Jefferson County Election Commission are not happy about the amount of money they received. The commission received $94,672.80 t0 conduct elections in 2018, although the initial budget paperwork showed that they would receive just over $1 million, including $900,000 for new voting machines.
“We need new equipment,” Commission Secretary Stuart “Stu” Soffer said. “We’ve had our voting machines since 2006, and they’re breaking down. I know it’s Christmas and not April Fools, but I didn’t think the county had $900,000. If that’s right, the first week in January we’re going to coordinate with the judge and start spending the money.”
Jefferson County Attorney Jackie Harris told Soffer that the number agreed to was different from the proposed budget paperwork that was passed out earlier this month.
Soffer objected to next year’s budget, saying that it was based on the budget for 2017 when there were only two minor elections, one in Pine Bluff for Go Forward Pine Bluff and the sec0nd the annual school board election. In 2018, there will be a preferential primary and possible run-off; the Pine Bluff and Watson Chapel School Board elections will also be in May.
“That election is going to cost about $70,000 when you include Pine Bluff and Watson Chapel,” Soffer said. “The minimum amount we can accept would be $185,000 to conduct the primaries, the general election and operate the election commission. If there’s less than $185,000 we’ve got a problem.”
Jefferson County Judge Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV said the budgeted amount would be a “good amount to get us started in the spring.”
Much of the costs of the primary election will be reimbursed by the political parties and by the two school districts, and Wilkins said that, hopefully, the reimbursement will help to defray costs later in the year.
Election Commission Chairman Mike Adam said the $94,000 also has to be used to pay expenses, utilities and the salary of a coordinator. Adams and Soffer have been feuding with Wilkins since he selected Gould Police Chief and former legislator Efrem Elliott as election coordinator earlier this year.
“We have no personnel to help in the office, and we have to run an election,” Adam said.