Every even numbered year is busy with election season and Jackson County has been showing up at the polls where they find a full ballot of races. On May 22, we will hold the Preferential Primary and General Non Partisan Election.

“The purpose of a Primary Election is for the nominating parties to determine which candidate will represent them on the General Election ballot in November,” County Clerk Melanie Clark explained. “This election seems to create a lot of confusion among voters. The main point of confusion stems from the fact that the voter must state which party’s primary they wish to vote in.”

Arkansas participates in open primaries. This simply means that no matter what or who you voted for in the last election or how you are registered to vote, you get to choose which ballot you want to vote on. “You need not register with a party or claim to be a member of any party, you simply choose which ballot contains the party you wish to vote for,” Clark said. “This can sometimes be frustrating to a voter because the poll worker MUST ask each voter and the voter MUST state out loud which ballot they prefer.” It can also be frustrating when there are candidates on both ballots the voter would like to vote for. “You, as a voter, will have to determine which party primary you would like to participate in. In the November General Election, ALL parties will be on one ballot.”

Another big change in our county this year is the conversion of our regular polling sites to vote centers. A vote center is the process of consolidating all precincts into a come one, come all polling place. “This should be a huge advantage to voters in Jackson County,” Clark smiled. “Essentially, polling sites in the County will be treated like early voting. Anyone registered to vote in Jackson County can vote at any of the nine polling sites located throughout the County.”

This process began a few years ago, when Clark worked with the state to become a pilot program for the new electronic equipment. “When Jackson County was awarded new voting equipment in late 2016, this got the ball rolling on the Commission being able to offer this to voters.” Through the use of electronic poll books and an electronic registrant system, voting is more secure now than ever, not that this has ever been a problem for Jackson County. Poll books are connected to a secure internet, not voting machines or tabulators.

“This will allow for voters to use whichever polling site is closest to them, whether it is their normal polling site or not. This will also decrease cost for elections, thus decreasing cost for taxpayers,” she added.

The Election Commission has also made a move to a new location for the Jackson County Election Center Vote Site. It will still be located in the Newport Village Mall, two doors down from the previous location. “This will allow for more voters and more voting machines to be set up so that no one ever has to wait to vote.”

This year you will also notice either a School Board Candidate or school millage question on your ballot. This will be the first time that you will see this. In the 2016 legislative session, legislators passed a law that the school election will be held in conjunction with either the Primary Elections or the General Elections. School districts in Jackson County chose to be on the Primary Election ballot.

Lastly, Act 633 states that each voter may verify his or her registration by providing a document or photo ID card that is issued by the State of Arkansas, the federal government or an accredited postsecondary educational institution in Arkansas. Examples of photo ID’s include: an AR drivers license, concealed carry handgun license, a U.S. passport, a U.S. military ID document, a student or employee ID card issued by a postsecondary educational institution, a public assistance ID card with photo, or a voter ID card with photo issued by the County Clerk. This is currently in litigation in Federal Court.

Clark and her staff are excited to get the voting season started and help all citizens exercise their rights. “I want our residents to know that we are available to help them through this process. If they have any questions, our office is always available to assist.” For further information on the changes, or for questions about the process, call County Clerk Melanie Clark at 870-523-7420.