Barring a late-year purchase of new machines, Baxter County voters will cast their ballots in March’s primary election using the county’s existing fleet of voting machines.

The Baxter County Election Commission met Monday morning at the commission’s East 5th Street office to see how many of the iVotronic machines, which are at least a decade old, are still functional. Commissioners Bob Bodenhamer, Judy Garner and Rick Peglar tested 47 machines, and reported that 45 appeared to be operational.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Aug. 2 announced that $8 million in state funds had been provided to the Secretary of State’s Office to allow 21 counties to purchase new voting equipment. Of that $8 million, Baxter County was tabbed to receive $185,000 from the state to cover half of the cost of 50 new voting machines.

Baxter County would responsible for providing the matching $185,000 for the 50 new voting machines, and the county would bear the full cost of purchasing any additional machines.

Election commissioners last month disputed the Secretary of State’s notion that the county needed only 50 voting machines for elections. Boone County, with roughly 4,000 fewer registered voters than Baxter County, operates 82 voting machines on election day, they said.

“We first need to sit down with the Secretary of State’s Office and figure out how many machines we need,” Bodenhamer told is fellow commissioners Monday. “We need to work that out and then go to the Quorum Court with a dollar amount.”

A six-figure price tag on new voting machines would likely require the Election Commission to first seek approval from the Quorum Court’s Budget Committee before presenting the request to the full 11-member legislative body.

As of Monday afternoon, Budget Committee members were trying to schedule their next meeting, but had not released a definitive date and time. The Quorum Court meets on the first Tuesday of the month, with its next meeting scheduled for Oct. 1.

Time was drawing short for the county to use new voting machines for the March 3 primary election, commissioners said Monday. Early voting for the primary will open on Feb. 17, and the ballots will have to be built once the candidates’ filing window closes on Nov. 12.

“It looks to me we need to know by around that time,” Bodenhamer said.

Garner said she had spoken to Scott County election officials about Baxter County inheriting Scott County’s iVotronic machines once they purchased new machines.

“We have let them know we’re interested in their machines, and they seem agreeable to giving them to us,” she said.

Baxter County could add at least 10 Scott County voting machines to its fleet, Garner said. She hoped to add additional voting machines from other counties as they purchased new machines as well.

“But that’s all dependent on them getting (new) machines themselves,” Bodenhamer warned.

Parts for Baxter County’s iVotronic machines are no longer commercially available, leaving commissioners little choice but to “cannibalize” nonfunctional units to keep other machines going.

Fifty-four counties used new voting machines for the November 2018 general election. The state’s $8 million appropriation is meant to help the remaining 21 counties update their machines.

The 21 counties are: Baxter, Bradley, Conway, Drew, Fulton, Jefferson, Lee, Lincoln, Madison, Mississippi, Monroe, Newton, Phillips, Poinsett, Pulaski, Saline, Scott, Searcy, St. Francis, Stone and Van Buren counties.

Officials from some counties have said their counties are so cash-strapped that they won’t be able to match state funds and purchase new voting machines.

The secretary of state’s office calculated each county’s estimated cost based on a formula factoring in poverty rates, per capita personal income, unemployment rates and population change. The counties’ average matching rate is 55 percent and they range from 50 percent in Baxter County to 78 percent in Phillips County.

Poll workers needed for primary

Election commissioners said they planned to have tables set up near the Republican and Democratic booths at the Baxter County Fair this week to recruit poll workers for the March primary.

Those interested in serving as a poll worker should contact Judy Garner or Rick Peglar with the Baxter County Republicans or Bob Bodenhamer with the Baxter County Democrats.

Prospective poll workers must be a registered voter and live in Baxter County.

For more information, please call (479) 755-5412. 

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