- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Pulaski County election officials told an Arkansas legislative committee Friday that a decision to move school board elections for two school districts from September to November is causing a logistical nightmare.

Pulaski County’s Director of Elections Bryan Poe said he’s talked to the secretary of state’s office, called the governor’s office and chatted with attorneys at the Association of Arkansas Counties before going to the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Friday. Poe said unless the state’s election laws that exclude all but school matters from school election ballots are changed, thousands of voters will have to vote in two separate elections on Nov. 8.

“The issue is the way the law is set up now, they’re setting us up for failure. It’s creating different points for voter confusion and different points where things could go wrong,” he said.

A law passed last year allows school boards to move school elections from the normal third Thursday in September to the same day as the November general election. State Education Commissioner Johnny Key last month set the November election date for the Pulaski County Special School District and the Helena-West Helena School District.

The state took over both districts in June 2011 because of financial mismanagement and overspending, making Key the default school board for those districts. Both were removed from state control last month and will be electing their first school boards since 2010.

Pulaski County election workers would need to program two different ballots, rent or borrow additional voting machines to read each ballot type, create a different poll book for each election and hire extra poll workers.

In addition to about 67,000 voters who will have to stand in line twice and use two different machines to vote, Poe said about 7,200 school district residents will likely have to go to two different polling locations in November if the laws aren’t tweaked because of another provision on where school board election ballots must be cast.

Poe said he’s hoping changes to the school election laws can be included in an expected special legislative session on highway funding.

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said the governor has not made a final decision on what issues would be on the call for that special session.

Kim Friedman, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education said the department had been made aware of potential issues with holding the school elections in November.

“We are researching how those issues can be resolved,” she said.

Phillips County Clerk Linda White, whose office would oversee the Helena-West Helena school election, was not in the office Friday. Arkansas secretary of state’s office spokesman Chris Powell said Phillips County officials had been in touch with staff at the office’s elections division about logistical concerns.


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