story by Ryan Saylor
The Sebastian County Election Commission took action Friday (Aug. 22) to be in compliance with state election laws following an attorney general's opinion that stated the commission erred in a previous vote to close specific polling locations.
The opinion by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, D-Ark., stated that without a unanimous vote of the commission, a polling location could not be closed.
Previous votes by the commission to close polling sites at WestArk Church of Christ, Haven Heights Baptist Church, New Providence Church, Sacred Heart Church, the Barling Senior Center and a polling site in Bloomer were not unanimous.
While McDaniel's opinion stated that elections, including the primary, were still valid, the commission took steps to right the wrong Friday.
A vote was first taken to re-open all the sites, with each then being voted on individually.
The sites closed by a unanimous vote were WestArk Church of Christ, Haven Heights Baptist Church and the Barling Senior Center. The other sites were left open.
Election Commissioner David Damron was the sole no vote on closing Bloomer and New Providence, with Election Commission Chairman Lee Webb and Election Commissioner Rita Howard Watkins voting to close the sites.
The only polling site up for a vote to draw protest was the site in Bloomer, where local residents and Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, whose district includes Bloomer, spoke to the commission in an effort to save the site.
"This one from Bloomer Baptist Church to Union Baptist Church is a little over 9.1 miles, but it takes a little over 17 minutes to make that 9.1 miles because of the winding, curvy road which isn't in very good shape," said resident Bill Warren.
Webb said the decision to close the Bloomer site and consolidate at Union Baptist Church was partly due to the budget handed to the commission by the Sebastian County Quorum Court.
But resident Jeff Stubblefield said the sites should be chosen based on servicing citizens and not based on money.
"Polling sites are for the people. We're not in the money making business at a polling site. All of us want to be able to vote in the most least-restrictive (way)," he said.
Webb said there were also issues with compliance at Bloomer Baptist Church regarding compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
As a solution, Douglas said an alternate polling site had been found less than a mile away at Bloomer Free Will Baptist Church. A representative from the church was at the meeting to speak on the issue and Webb said consideration of the church as an alternate would have to be discussed at a future meeting.
In other business, the commission certified the Fort Smith Public Library's millage election with a final vote count of 1,544 voting to increase the millage from one mils to three and 2,744 voting against the increase.
The commission oversaw the drawing of ballot positions for the November general election following adjournment of its meeting.