The Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners voted 3-0 Wednesday to increase the number of voting machines from seven to 20 and to expand the area at the Jefferson County Courthouse where people may vote early.

The Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners voted 3-0 Wednesday to increase the number of voting machines from seven to 20 and to expand the area at the Jefferson County Courthouse where people may vote early.


Commissioner Stu Soffer said people have waited for three hours to vote, which he finds unacceptable. Soffer said they will add a curtain divider from the entrance of the courthouse leading to the open area in the middle of the building. One side of the curtain will be for people arriving to vote. The other side will be for people leaving and for people doing other business.


One small room in the courthouse had been used for early voting.


Soffer said he had asked Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson to move early voting to the Pine Bluff Convention Center but she declined this suggestion.


Soffer said he has witnessed candidates interacting with voters in the courthouse on Election Day — in violation of the law. As such, he proposed this arrangement.


Commissioner Mike Adam and Soffer credited Jefferson County Judge Dutch King for supporting easier access to early voting at the county courthouse. In a written memo, King invited the commission to use the courthouse to improve early voting.


Commissioner Cynthia Sims approved the measure. Soffer said he had wanted to make changes since 2008.


The Republican and Democratic preferential primary elections and the nonpartisan general election will be on March 1, 2016.


Soffer said voters are permitted to vote in the primary of their choice, regardless of their political affiliation and then vote for any candidate in the November 2016 general election. Soffer said voters need to understand that if they vote in the Republican primary and there is a runoff in the Democrat primary, they are prohibited by law from voting in the runoff.


The Rev. Jesse Turner asked the commission to ensure the integrity of the voting process. As executive director of Interested Citizens for Voter Registration Inc., Turner said he is concerned about people having access to early voting.


In other business, the commission voted 3-0 to set a White Hall School District special election on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, on a proposal to increase the millage rate from 39.2 mills to 44.9 mills. The money would pay for building a fine arts center, a multipurpose building and classrooms at White Hall High School.


The commission approved these voting locations for the White Hall School District election:


*Central Baptist Church — 6107 Dollarway Road, in White Hall;


*American Legion Post 343 — Mark Twain Boulevard in Redfield;


*Jefferson Water Co. — 111 Wishbone Farm Road in Jefferson;


*Hardin Baptist Church — 300 Todd Lynn Drive in White Hall;


*First Baptist Church Activities Building — 8203 Dollarway Road in White Hall;


*White Hall City Hall — 101 Parkway Drive in White Hall.


Early voting for the White Hall School District Special Millage Election will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, to Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. There will not be weekend early voting for this election and voting machines will be in the usual voting machine room.


Adam said the election commission will notify King it needs an additional $30,000 to hold the White Hall special election.


Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson did not return a phone call by press time Thursday.