The Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners called a special meeting Tuesday night after learning Jody Campbell, the mayor for the city of Sherrill, issued an order refusing voters access to City Hall or the Fire Department for the primary runoffs.
The Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners called a special meeting Tuesday after learning Jody Campbell, the mayor for the city of Sherrill, issued an order refusing voters access to City Hall or the Fire Department for the primary runoffs. The news comes just days after poll workers expressed concern about sanitation and safety issues related to COVID-19 causing at least one worker to quit.
"One of our responsibilities is to designate polling sites for precincts," said Jefferson County Board of Election Commissioners secretary Stu Soffer. "That's a statutory responsibility and we now have several precincts not assigned to a polling site."
Soffer made a motion to shift precincts one, two, four, 11 and 950 originally located in Sherrill at City Hall to Mt. Bayou Baptist Church in Altheimer. But, commissioner Ted Davis disagreed with the motion stating the emergency polling site change was the location of an elected official's church.
"What's going to happen when the pastor of that church who is a circuit clerk runs for office and the polling place is inside of his facility that he runs?," said Davis of Jefferson County circuit clerk Lafayette Woods, Sr.
The Tucker Volunteer Fire Department also declined the board's re quest to use its facility for the runoffs. So, with limited options on such short notice, Soffer and chairman Michael Adam urged Davis to understand the need for a unanimous vote on the matter of emergency polling site change.
"He has no access to that polling site and he knows it's against the law," said Adam of Woods. "I understand your concern and I have no problem with it. But, I think in the interest of our people we need to get this approved so we know where we're going."
During public comments, Jeff Edwards who's in a runoff for Jefferson County justice of the peace District 13 against Brenda Bishop-Gaddy echoed similar sentiments as Davis. Gaddy won 222 votes while Edwards got 194 votes on Super Tuesday.
"I understand closing the Sherrill polling site, because of the coronavirus and Altheimer being the only polling site," Edwards said. "But, it puts me at an unfair disadvantage because not only as commissioner Davis stated there's an elected official who operates that facility. My opponent is also a member of that church, so with her being a member of that facility and with her living in Altheimer who has the largest voting populous on that side of the river... I don't see any way that this would be a level playing field."
Early voting across the state began Tuesday in 12 counties including Arkansas, Benton, Conway, Craighead, Garland, Grant, Greene, Hot Springs, Jefferson, Lonoke, Saline and White counties. With positive cases of the coronavirus reported in more than half of the counties conducting runoffs, election officials continue to be diligent in taking necessary measures to ensure the safety of not only poll workers, but also the public.
"I think we've taken every precaution that we can," said Soffer.
According to Soffer, workers will wear gloves during the handling of identification cards and any other materials that dictate an exchange with voters. To prevent voters from touching voting equipment, they will be given erasers to cast their ballot. The board has even ordered alcohol wipes to constantly clean surfaces and voting equipment after every use. Additionally, they have requested that voters not bring their children into the polling sites.
State and local officials encourage voters to request an absentee ballot from their county clerk's office to reduce crowds at polling sites. Gov. Asa Hutchinson extended the application deadline to March 30 with voters to return their absentee ballots by March 30 in order for them to be counted. The election is Tues., March 31 with polls opening at 7:30 a.m. and closing at 7:30 p.m. In addition to the race between Edwards and Gaddy, voters will cast their ballots on a candidate for Pine Bluff City Council member Ward 2 position 1 between Lloyd Franklin Jr. and Steven Shaner. Franklin received 69 more votes than Shaner with 883 and 814 votes during the March 3 primary election, respectively.
"My recommendation in the form of a motion is that we restrict access to this building to a candidate or the representative of a candidate and the media," said Soffer. "That will protect everybody and it'll get the information out there."
To show the board's appreciation to polling workers choosing to work during the pandemic, Soffer made another motion to give them an extra $50 on top of the $125 they currently receive. The motion passed with a unanimous vote.
"We need to say to them, 'thank you'," Soffer said.
Residents can view election results on the Jefferson County Arkansas Elections' Facebook page. The results of the election will also be posted on the front door of the Election Center located at 123 S. Main Street.
Jefferson County Justice of the Peace District 13 polling sites:
Altheimer - Mt. Bayou Baptist Church
305 S. Edline
Altheimer, Humphrey, Wabbaseka, Sherrill, and Swan Lake voters in precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,7, 8, 9, 10, 11,510, 530, 610, 620, 900 950
Pine Bluff - Green Meadows Baptist Annex
4201 Hwy 65 South
Green Meadows and Linwood/Moscow voters in precincts 26, 27, 28
Pine Bluff City Council Member Ward 2 position 1 polling sites:
First Presbyterian Church Activities Youth Center Building
700 W. 32nd Ave.
First Presbyterian Church and Family Church of Pine Bluff voters in precincts 202, 205, 207, 208, 209, 210, 212, 213, 216, 217, 219, 220
Pine Bluff - Church Of Christ
4015 Hazel St.
Church of Christ, Immanuel Baptist Church and Forrest Park Assembly of God voters in precincts 201, 203, 204, 206, 211, 214, 215, 218
Pine Bluff - First Baptist Church-Activities Center Building
6501 S. Hazel St.
Voters in precincts 221, 222, 223, 224