White County is getting its first voting centers after the Quorum Court approved an ordinance and emergency clause Tuesday night allowing them to be used.

“Tonight, is a night to celebrate. We have 13 great justices of peace that voted to support the county’s first vote centers,” White County Election Commission Chairman Robert Allen said after the meeting. “I would like to thank the justices for their support. It will increase the voter turnout in their districts and make it more convenient for their constituents and others in the county to vote by having more locations to choose from on election day during the times of 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.”

Voting centers will be used only on the day of an election. Early voting will still be done the same way with specific polling places named as such.

JP Bobby Burns asked if some voting precincts would be closed as the result of having vote centers. JP Sue Liles responded, “I believe Mr. Allen has mentioned in other groups that all these voting sites now are WiFi accessible so there will be no voting site that’s closed because it’s not internet accessible. That was one question that came up before.”

She said the sites mentioned before that might not have service and might have to close were down toward Griffithville and West Point and around Floyd and Romance might not have service, but Allen said these areas have been checked and they are all good now. “Every precinct that was open before will be open,” Liles said.

Burns asked what the purpose of the voting centers is if all of the sites had been approved, “So you can vote anywhere in the county,” White County Judge Michael Lincoln said.

“You will not ever go to a wrong voting place, you can vote anywhere,” Liles added.

Lincoln said it allows someone who is out of town and can’t get back to vote before the polls close to vote in the area of White County that they are in. He mentioned as an example someone living in Beebe being in Bradford.

“And, to, you have to realize if you go to Bradford to take Mom and Dad to the polls because they’re not driving or it’s a bad day to get out, you can vote, too,” Liles said, “or you have Mom and Dad there or Grandpa and Grandma there, you can vote the same time as they do.”

Burns asked Lincoln if he thought the voting centers would have any effect on voting irregularities.

“Would it open the door for voting to be abused?” Lincoln said. “No, because let’s say, Mr. Burns, if you voted in Beebe and you forgot you voted in Beebe and you find yourself at Walmart and say, ‘Oh, I need to vote on election day.’ You go to a voting center and you give them your name, you are going to come up in the record as already having voted, so you won’t be able to vote twice.

“You hear a lot of talk about purging voting rolls and we do that in White County from time to time. And here’s how we purge them: If somebody dies, we try to get them off the books. If we get a notice that somebody has moved – because we send out a registration that explains that – there are several times that you notify someone, but purging off voting lists is something that happens all the time. For some reason, some people think that we’re trying to suppress votes, but we’re not. I can’t imagine what your files would look like if you never purged the voting rolls in our office.”

White County Clerk Carla Barnett said she was “very comfortable” with the voting centers even though “it’s not going to lessen our workload any.”

“It’s still going to be about the same; we still have 32 polling sites and still have the same amount of poll workers trained,” Barnett said, “but it’s going to make it so much easier for the voter, because we get so many people who say they go to the wrong polling site and they say, ‘We’re just not going to vote if we can’t vote here.’

“They don’t understand why they can’t vote,. There’s a vote here sign out there and they don’t understand that and I think we lose a lot of votes because people don’t want to stand in line somewhere else, and now if there is a line at your polling place, you can go across town to another one. They may know that there’s not a line at this polling site and you don’t have to wait. I just think it’s going to make it a whole lot simpler and a whole lot cleaner.”

Every election, Lincoln said, there’s a certain percentage of White County voters who vote early and then there’s a certain percentage that will only vote on election day. He said that is “pretty consistent.”

“I’m sure if you all have been keeping up with what’s going on around the nation, there were several states that enacted” voting laws that are “depending on what side of the aisle you’re on, some say unconstitutional and on the other side it’s very constitutional. Voting is always going to continue to be challenged as technology advances. Personally, I would go back to the punch cards, but thanks to Florida, we can’t go back to punch cards, but this is going to enhance the opportunity in my opinion for there really to be no excuse not to vote because you can actually vote in any of the number of polling sites that we have, so it’s really going to be an advantage to increase.”

Lincoln asked that the justices keep up with federal lawmakers’ efforts to pass a voting rights law. “If a new voting law gets passed, that means that it will be a federal takeover of our voting elections and we would not want that to happen, so you better pay close attention to what’s going on in Washington right now. Make sure you let your representatives know how you feel about it.”

Allen thanked the White County Election Commission and Election Coordinator Tara McKnight, along with former county Information Technology Director Nathan Elli,s for putting together the voting center plan.

“We hope in a very near future to get out the information to the public on the new vote centers,” Allen said. “We will use social media and signs and more to get the information out to the voters prior to early voting for the primary on May 24, 2022.”

The polling sites are Antioch Church, Beebe Church of Christ, Beebe City Hall, Bradford Baptist Church, Carmichael Community Center, White County Central High School, United Methodist Church, Downtown Church of Christ, El Paso Community Center, Fairview Fire Station, First Assembly of God Church, First General Baptist Church, Floyd First Baptist Church, Garner City Hall, Georgetown Community Building, Griffithville Senior Citizens Community Building, Higginson City Hall, Joy Fire Station, Judsonia Community Building, Kensett First Baptist Church, Letona City Hall, McRae Multipurpose Building, Pangburn City Hall, Pineview Church of Christ, Rose Bud Community Center, 16 Section Church, Central Baptist Church, United Methodist Church, Valley Baptist Church, Velvet Ridge Church of Christ, West Point City Hall and West Race Baptist Church.

Allen said the filing period for those running for office in the May 2022 primary is from Feb. 22 at noon until noon March 1. Every JP raised his or her hands when Lincoln asked how many of them were running again.

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