Absentee ballots go out late

After a week of vetting absentee ballots for correct precinct assignment, the Garland County clerk's office began mailing them out Monday to around 400 voters who applied to vote absentee in the Nov. 8 general election, County Clerk Sarah Smith said.

Smith said the Garland County Election Commission initially sent her office 19 ballot styles. After a week of cross-checking precincts with the list of races assigned to each precinct, it was determined 23 were needed.

One of the additional versions came after the discovery of a precinct in Justice of the Peace District 5 that didn't include the District 6 city director's race. The election commission had initially assigned that location a generic ballot that doesn't include contested local races.

Smith said her office didn't double-check the precinct assignments for absentee ballots mailed for the March 1 preferential primaries and nonpartisan judicial elections, causing about 70 voters to receive incorrect ballots. On Monday, the labels with bar codes identifying voters' names, addresses, precincts and ballot styles were ready to be placed on the envelopes the clerk's office uses to mail absentee ballots.

The clerk's office received the ballots from the election commission Sept. 26, four days after the Sept. 22 statutory deadline for election commissions to get absentee ballots to county clerks. The state's election code requires county clerks to have mailed absentee ballots on Sept. 23, which was 46 days before the election.

Election Commissioner Dennis Bosch said last week that the election commission discovered a few days before the Sept. 22 deadline that the ballots were too long for the local printer who usually prints the county's ballots. They had to be sent to Little Rock, delaying their arrival at the county clerk's office.

Bosch said multiple revisions and several weeks of coordination between the election commission and the state's election services contractor, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), were needed to get the ballots ready for printing. The final version ES&S provided had ballot styles for all of the county's 185 precinct parts. The election commission had to condense those into the 19 ballot styles it initially sent the county clerk's office, causing further delay in getting the ballots delivered.

Many of the precinct parts will be voting on the same slate of races, Bosch said, making it unnecessary to have a unique ballot for every location. In elections prior to the March primaries, many ballot styles listed the same races but were distinguished by bar codes representing one of the 185 precinct parts.

The county's new voting equipment puts that information on the ballot activation cards voters receive after checking in at vote centers. The cards cue up the ballot assigned to the specific precinct when fed into an electronic ballot marking device, allowing the county to meet the reporting mandate the bar codes enable while reducing the number of ballot styles.

The election commission formatted ballots in previous elections, but the new equipment the county received as part of its inclusion in a pilot program led the secretary of state's office to recommend that ES&S format this year's ballot, said Chris Powell, the secretary of state's press manager.

Nov. 1 is the deadline for county clerks to receive applications for absentee ballots. The ballots must be returned to the county clerk by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Absentee ballot applications, voter registration applications and voter change of address forms are available at the county clerk's website, http://www.garcoclerk.com.

Oct. 10 is the final day to register to vote. Voters transferring their registration from another county have until Nov. 4. The county clerk has asked that voters who have moved since they last voted submit change of address forms prior to arriving at vote centers.

Early voting begins Oct. 24.

Local on 10/04/2016

Upcoming Events