North­west Arkansas model sparks re­gional elec­tion groups

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - SCAR­LET SIMS

FAYET­TEVILLE — Five re­gional groups rep­re­sent­ing Arkansas county elec­tion com­mis­sion­ers have started up after state of­fi­cials saw the suc­cess of a group in North­west Arkansas, said Heather McKim, deputy di­rec­tor for the State Board of Elec­tion Com­mis­sion­ers.

“You guys sparked a fire with us,” McKim said. “We re­al­ized we need to be do­ing this all over the state.”

Since April, groups have started up and met in north­east, north­west, south­east, south­west and cen­tral Arkansas, McKim said. Wash­ing­ton County had a small, re­gional group in 2015 but ex­panded it in April to in­clude 11 coun­ties.

Wash­ing­ton County’s in­for­ma­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion at that meet­ing was used as a model for other re­gions, McKim said.

The move to­ward re­gional meet­ings is meant to cre­ate more com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween “sis­ter” coun­ties and more co­he­sion in the elec­tion process statewide, McKim said. The board plans to act as a bridge be­tween the re­gional groups, she said.

“The ben­e­fit is that re­ally ev­ery­one is on the same page — that we are run­ning the elec­tions the same way across the state,” McKim said. “Vot­ers are the ones who will ben­e­fit the most. They will be treated the same across the state re­gard­less of what county they vote in.”

On Tues­day, the North­west Arkansas group’s meet­ing drew 40 com­mis­sion­ers from nine coun­ties. Com­mis­sion­ers learned about new laws, re­viewed forms and dis­cussed a pos­si­ble pay­ment sys­tem for school board elec­tions held dur­ing pri­mary or general elec­tions.

The re­gional groups, partly, are a re­sponse to the dis­so­lu­tion of the Arkansas County Elec­tion Com­mis­sions As­so­ci­a­tion, said Jen­nifer Price, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the Wash­ing­ton County Elec­tion Com­mis­sion.

The as­so­ci­a­tion rep­re­sented com­mis­sion­ers statewide but dis­solved in July, ac­cord­ing to Pu­laski County Cir­cuit Court records. The di­rec­tor of the as­so­ci­a­tion re­signed in December.

The non­profit group lacked participation, a judge wrote in the dis­so­lu­tion or­der. The roughly $1,800 left in the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion’s cof­fers went to the at­tor­ney, court records show.

Now, sev­eral more re­gional meet­ings are planned in Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber, McKim said. Com­mis­sion­ers say they want to keep the meet­ings smaller and more in­for­mal, she said.

So far, at­ten­dance has been strong among county of­fi­cials, but the sec­re­tary of state, which over­sees some elec­tion pro­cesses, has yet to at­tend de­spite being invited.

The sec­re­tary of state over­sees items in­clud­ing elec­tion equip­ment. The board over­sees is­sues that in­clude train­ing and voter fraud, McKim said.

The voice mail for a sec­re­tary of state spokesman was full Tues­day af­ter­noon. He didn’t re­spond to email about whether the sec­re­tary of state plans to at­tend the re­gional group meet­ings.

Wash­ing­ton County Elec­tion Com­mis­sion Chair­man Bill Ack­er­man said law­mak­ers, the sec­re­tary of state, state board and coun­ties must work to­gether. The idea is to re­solve is­sues and pre­vent leg­is­la­tion that hurts the elec­tion process, com­mis­sion­ers said.

“It’s im­per­a­tive that we have con­ver­sa­tion among our­selves as com­mis­sions and coun­ties,” Ack­er­man said. “We are the boots on the ground, if you will.”

“It’s im­per­a­tive that we have con­ver­sa­tion among our­selves as com­mis­sions and coun­ties. We are the boots on the ground, if you will.” — Bill Ack­er­man, chair­man, Wash­ing­ton County Elec­tion Com­mis­sion

Scar­let Sims can be reached by email at ssims@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWAS­car­lets.

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