YELLVILLE — The Marion County Election Commission and state election officials met Wednesday with members of the Marion County Quorum Court to answer questions about a proposal to employ vote centers this year. And there were several.
The commission had proposed doing away with the current 16 polling places on election day, as well as expanding some early voting locations.
Commission chairman Elaine Ryder told justices of the peace that the old voting machines currently in use are just that — old. They can no longer be updated, so when one breaks down that means one less machine in operation.
The county has been making do by replacing 10 machines with surplus machines found in other counties.
It is getting more difficult to recruit poll workers to train each election cycle. Sometimes people will say they will work the polls, but when election day arrives they are no shows and the commission has to scramble to make sure the voting locations have at least four poll workers at each site as required by law.
So, the commission has proposed to use polling locations at Bull Shoals, Promised Land, Flippin Baptist Church, the Marion County Fairgrounds, Lakeway Fire Department and Eros Community Building.
Those polling places would be vote centers, which means a voter from Eros could vote at any one of the centers, which must be connected by internet to the Marion County Clerk’s Office so electronic poll books can be used.
Early voting also would be a little different.
Commissioner Karen Carter said residents in Bull Shoals turn out heavy for early voting, which has been held in the county clerk’s office. There had been some complaints about the halls being crowded, especially when circuit court was in session.
So, there would be one week of early voting at Bull Shoals to alleviate that issue. Lazy Acres is a different story.
Lazy Acres is across Bull Shoals Lake from Peel. It is near Pro Tem, Missouri, and the most expeditious way back to the main part of Marion County is via the Peel Ferry.
Election day has historically been a challenge with the polling place at Lazy Acres. Because the ferry stops running in late afternoon, election results weren’t available until the Wednesday after election day unless someone drove around the lake to deliver results to the courthouse Tuesday night.
Leslie Bellamy, director of elections with the Secretary of State’s office, told JPs last week that law now requires all counties to have their election results recorded with the state the night of the election. If not, Marion County’s results could be enough to sway an election and not be known until Wednesday.
So, Carter said, there would be a poll open at Lazy Acres on the final day of early voting — the Monday before election day — but not election day.
JP Mike Scrima asked why results from Lazy Acres couldn’t be transmitted by internet.
Ryder said the internet is used only for uploading results to the Secretary of State’s office by secured website, and for connecting poll books to the clerk’s office.
County Judge Terry Ott said it appeared there could be a polling place at Lazy Acres on election day if someone is will to make the drive to Yellville after polls close at 7:30 p.m.
Bellamy told JPs she wasn’t there to talk them into using vote centers. When she worked in elections at the county level, she was opposed to them. Then she went to work for the state.
“I do see the benefit in them now,” Bellamy said. “The benefit is it’s easier for the voter.”
In addition, the security of the election is greater with vote centers, she added.
Marion County election commissioners submitted their plan for vote centers to her office and it had been approved, with some alterations. Not all such plans are approved for every commission, such as one she turned down that took a county from 29 polling locations to four vote centers.
“I’m not just signing off on these willy nilly,” Bellamy said.
JP Raymond Mayo pointed out that a county’s election commission, by law, could make the changes to polling locations. He asked why the quorum court even needed to take up the issue.
First, Bellamy said, she wouldn’t even approve the plan if not approved by a QC ordinance. Secondly, state officials want the local governing body to have some say in changes made.
Bellamy went on to say that vote centers might not be right for Marion County.
“You won’t know if it works until you implement it,” she said.
And if it doesn’t work, the QC can always repeal the ordinance and go back to numerous polling places.
But she said many people in the county usually will find themselves near one of the vote centers during the 15 days of early voting, and they can cast a ballot at any one of them.
When asked about cost savings, Ryder said the main savings would be in programming machines for the election.
The machine manufacturer does all programming for the county and bills per machine. If the county uses 40 percent fewer machines it would save on programming costs, but there would also be nominal savings with fewer poll workers.
County attorney Sam Pasthing said cost savings shouldn’t be the main consideration in making the decision.
He acknowledged that it would be a long drive for some Marion County residents to vote on election day. But, he said, if there is a way to make it easier for people to vote, the quorum court should consider it.
“There’s a happy medium,” Pasthing said.