Two remaining Crawford County election commissioners came together with county officials Thursday night to discuss issues and frustrations regarding upcoming election duties after the June 21 resignation of the commission chair.
Election commissioners Bill Taylor, who represents the Democratic Party, and Ernie Schimmelman, representing the Republican Party, reached out to county officials for ways to handle upcoming elections.
On the horizon is not only the Nov. 1 general election, but also municipal and school elections.
"What I’m hoping to get out of this is help with the election commission duties," Schimmelman said at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, which was hosted at the Republican Party headquarters on Main Street in Van Buren.
John Lyon, one of three election commissioners representing the Republican Party of Crawford County and serving as commission chair, submitted a letter of resignation outlining his main frustrations with the county’s election process.
In the letter Lyon states that he decided to resign for three main reasons: The failure to obtain new, modern election equipment promised by Arkansas legislators; budget cuts by the Crawford County Quorum Court; and the reinstatement of duties to the commission that were previously handled by the county clerk’s office.
While those in the meeting agreed little could be done about the legislature’s failure to approve money to pay for new voting machines, they discussed ways to address the two other issues put forward by Lyon.
"I think we all fully understand the frustrations that John had," said Crawford County Judge John Hall. "Election issues have gotten more diversified and more demanding."
Crawford County Clerk Teresa Armer recently met with Lyon to discuss election commission duties. Her office had taken on many duties that by law belong to the election commission, and her staff is no longer able to handle the extra workload, she said.
"I’m just frustrated because it’s always been thrown on the county clerk’s office to do all this, and the law states it’s up to the election commission to bring the ballots to our office for absentee and early voting only," Armer said.
Hall explained that a previous county clerk had wanted to organize and supervise the election process, and the office continued to take on new election duties. They had been able to handle the duties with additional staff, but have now become overloaded, Hall said.
On top of her regular work load, Armer said her office is dealing with mounting election duties designated by the state. And soon her office will be facing verification of petition signatures for the wet-dry issue, school filings and municipality filings, she said.
"We are overrun," Armer said.
In Lyon’s letter, he stated those duties that do not belong to the clerk’s office should still fall to someone holding a paid position with the county.
One idea put forward was that of appointing an election coordinator, but Hall was quick to point out that the county does not have enough money in its budget to pay the position’s salary.
"This is an issue that should have been brought forward after the general election two years ago if it was going to be dealt with at this time," Hall said. "Right now we have no options to do anything but work with what we’ve got."
Schimmelman pointed out that much of the commissioners’ work goes unpaid.
"Bill and I, we both have done a lot of work that doesn’t get paid and doesn’t get recognized that we’re there full time, especially during election years," Schimmelman said. "We need your help."
Armer said she does not have enough staff in her office to loan someone full time to the election commission to help with their duties, and with the county’s restricted finances, it was unlikely a request for additional staff would be approved.
But, Armer added, she does have enough money in an automation fund to pay a portion of a part-time salary.
In the future that could go toward the salary for an election coordinator, she said. For now, she suggested the money could go to pay the commissioners to learn and take up the duties her office has been handling.
After some discussion, Taylor and Schimmelman agreed that they might share those duties. Armer agreed that one member of her staff would help with their training and the execution of those duties.
As for the county budget cuts, Hall pointed out that $100,000 in the County General Fund has been earmarked to go to the election commission.
Taylor told Hall the refusal of the CCQC to relinquish the money caused the commission to feel as if it was not trusted.
Hall argued that was not the case. Because of changes in how county funds must be distributed, it is necessary to keep a certain amount in the general fund to prevent any hiccups in the county’s ability to function, he said.
He assured the commissioners they would receive the money before it was needed.
"This is one of the more important functions of our democracy to hold elections and to hold them smoothly and to get them done as swiftly as possible," Hall said.
Also discussed was the appointment of a new commissioner.
Mark Shaffer, the Republican party chairman, is actively looking for a new commissioner to replace Lyon, he said. The soonest a new commissioner would be appointed would be after their July 12 meeting, Shaffer said.