Wednesday, April 12, 2006

TOP STORY >> Locations to vote cut drastically

IN SHORT >> Polling places for the May primary have been slashed from 89 to 32 for county residents.

Leader staff writer

Many White County residents won’t necessarily be voting at their customary polling places for the May primary.

A lawsuit filed March 24 to stop the White County Election Commission from reducing the number of polling places in the county from 89 to 32 ended Friday with a ruling from Circuit Judge Bill Mills that the election commission had not acted outside the scope of its authority.

“The Arkansas Legislature has be-stowed considerable discretion upon the county Boards of Election Commission-ers,” Mills wrote in his ruling. “Polling places are to be placed according to the Board’s judgment of what is necessary. There is no standard for what is necessary.

“In order to set aside a decision of this Board, there would need to be proof that the Board abused its discretionary authority. I find the proof insufficient to show abuse of discretion by the Board,” he wrote.

Charles Pryor, one of the two Democrats on the three-member commission, said the polling places were combined to make it easier for commissioners to monitor elections and rectify any problems that might arise.

White County is large and getting across it quickly is impossible, he said. So the commission decided to decrease the number of polling places and place two of the new electronic voting machines in each one.

Pryor said he hoped the judge’s ruling would put an end to the opposition to the commission’s decision, which he said was really an “attempt to reduce the complexity of the election,” but he feared the commission would hear again from Dennis Gillam, the independent candidate for county judge that he says paid for the lawsuit. Gillam isn’t saying he paid for all the legal fees for the lawsuit, which leaves open the possibility that others thought the issue was important enough to pony up. But neither is he saying he didn’t.

Gillam’s detractors say the lawsuit is a ploy to get the support of county residents who feel disenfranchised by the changes. But Gillam says he helped because he thought it was important and he isn’t concerned about any possible backlash. “I don’t think anyone will chastise me for standing up for the handicapped, the elderly, the displaced voters,” he said.

Neither is Gillam, who is considered as a front runner in the race, too worried about bad publicity from a 12-year-old lawsuit in which with a jury awarded a Beebe man $42,000 for an altercation that ended with the man falling into Gillam’s posted fish pond.

Gillam said Bruce Menser, the man who collected the $42,000 from his insurance company, had signed his petition to run for county judge, so as far as he was concerned any differences they had are in the past.

The new polling sites and precincts for White County were effective April 1.

Changes in polling places in the Leader’s coverage area are as follow: Beebe Ward 1, Beebe Ward 2 — Beebe City Hall, 201 W. Illinois, Beebe; Beebe Ward 3, Beebe Ward 3C, Union Township — Beebe Church of Christ, 1906 W. Center, Beebe; McRae Ward 1, McRae Ward 2, McRae Township, Garner City, Garner Township — McRae Multipurpose Building, 4936 Hwy. 367, McRae; Searcy Ward 1A, Searcy Ward 1B, Searcy Ward 1C, Searcy Ward 1D, Searcy Ward 1E— Downtown Church of Christ, 900 N. Main St., Searcy; Searcy Ward 2B, Searcy Ward 2C, Searcy Ward 2D, Searcy Ward 2E — West Race Baptist Church, 1006 West Race Street, Searcy; Searcy Ward 3A, Searcy Ward 3B, Searcy Ward 3C, Searcy Ward 3D, Searcy Ward 3E — Carmichael Community Center 801 S. Elm Street, Searcy; Searcy Ward 4A, Searcy Ward 4B, Searcy Ward 4C — First Assembly of God Church, Benton at Cloverdale Street, Searcy; El Paso, Cleveland, Jefferson, Royal — El Paso Community Building, El Paso; Antioch, Coffey — Floyd Fire Station, 104 Turpin Mountain Road, Floyd.