Tuesday, August 26, 2014

TOP STORY >> Early voting to end in county

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County will not have early voting for the general election in November, unless election officials change their mind.

The Lonoke County Election Commission met Friday at the county clerk’s office to discuss adding Carlisle and England to Cabot and Lonoke for early voting, but failed to agree on limited early voting in Carlisle and England. (See editorial, p. 8A.)

The commission includes chairman Richard Kyzer and M.J. Maneth, both representatives from the Lonoke County Democratic Committee, and Chuck Eick, representative of the Lonoke County Republican Committee. All three were appointed this year after the former members stepped down.

The vote was 2-1 in favor of early voting, but Eick was against adding early voting in Carlisle and England, along with Cabot and Lonoke. Carlisle and England would have been limited to the first week of the two-week early- voting period.

Eick said he needed more information on having the number of ballot machines to support early voting, polling sites and workers availability. State law requires a unanimous vote to add or remove a polling site.

When a new motion was made to have early voting only at Cabot and Lonoke, no one seconded the motion and it was dropped.

The commission will met again at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the county clerk’s office to talk more on early voting.

During the primary elections in May, early voting was held in Cabot and Lonoke.

Carlisle and England had early voting the first and only time in 2012.

Kyzer, Carlisle Mayor Ray Glover and Lonoke City Attorney Camille Bennett, Democratic candidate for state representative in District 14, said they have heard complaints from Carlisle and England residents about not being able to early vote.

“We had no idea there was an issue,” Eick said.

Eick wanted to know why it was not brought up to the election commission before Friday.

Bennett said people assumed there would be early voting. She only learned about no early voting in England and Carlisle on Thursday.

“Why weren’t people concerned when we had the primary?” Eick said.

“Everyone expected there to be early voting. When it didn’t show up, that was a surprise. Now as we get closer to the general (election), people are starting to complain,” Lonoke County Democratic Committee chairman Tim Blair said.

County Clerk Larry Clarke, who was defeated in the primary election by Dawn Porterfield, said there are no numbers for all of the early voting in 2012 because the data on the computers was corrupted before he was elected to office.

However, Clarke said he was able to count 2012 early voting numbers in Keo and England. He said 700 people voted on Election Day and 259 voted early.

Clarke said in his opinion early voting doesn’t make a difference on the outcome.

Bennett asked why not allow voters of England and Carlisle to vote early during the first week of the two-week early voting period.

Eick said having early voting for one week in England and Carlisle has the potential to confuse the voters, problems with logistics and the election commission may not have enough machines to support early voting and be reprogrammed in time for regular voting.

Bennett said people are concerned about absentee ballots being denied.

“If you’re not able to vote on Election Day, and you don’t have an opportunity to early vote, then you are denying those people the ability to vote,” Bennett said.

“It isn’t an issue of north and south, Democrat or Republican. The issue is everybody should have an opportunity to vote as easily as they can,” Blair said.

“Early voting is about convenience for the voters. That’s what we’re after. Carlisle has a large elderly population. Many cannot get to Lonoke,” Glover said.

“Access to voting is a fundamental right,” Bennett said.

“If it costs $2,500 (from county funds), and we get it done and have the stuff to do it—I’m having a hard time understanding why the people appointed to oversee the election would (not) be (saying) – great. More access and easier to vote,” Bennett said.

“If the right to vote — what a responsibility it is for a citizen to cast his ballot. Let’s just buy $5,000 in machines for the county and put one in every corner of the road,” Clarke said.

Clarke said there were 106 voting machines that were working during the last primary election.

Clarke said he understood why England would want an early voting polling place, but Carlisle is nine miles from the Lonoke County Courthouse. He asked why not let Ward have an early voting polling place.

Blair said early voting lessens the turnout on Election Day, which makes it easier for the poll workers and the election commission.

Eick said most counties Lonoke’s size have only one early-voting site, and Cabot was only opened due the large population growth.