Bossier Parish Registrar of Voters Stephanie Agee, left, and clerk Brooke Coston.

Casting an early ballot in upcoming elections will soon be a lot more convenient for voters in Bossier City and southern Bossier Parish, especially those who historically face a long drive to the parish courthouse in Benton.

When the parish police jury adopted its 2018 budget last week, funds were included to provide an additional early voting site located in Bossier City. Rather than driving all the way to Benton, early votes can now be cast at 2206 Beckett Street near city hall.

“We have our memorandum of understanding with the police jury which will let us put the site in the Central Branch Library’s History Center,” Parish Registrar of Voters Stephanie Agee said.

Voters can hopefully start making this shorter trip to the polls beginning with March 2018 elections.

“The one complaint I’ve heard from early voters, and police jury members have heard, is why don’t we have something closer to us,” Agee said. “Our goal was to get this done.”

Agee said the process of getting a new site practically began during her interview process for the registrar’s job.

“One of the things the police jury asked when I interviewed was if I would be willing to try to do this. I said certainly and began working on it, probably around August, after the 2016 Presidential election,” she said.

In order to secure an additional site, Agee had to gain approval from the Secretary of State, the owner of all voting equipment. Expenses for equipment and necessary personnel were a primary consideration. The state has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for new equipment that could be available by spring, 2018.

Additional, but not permanent staff, will come from the regular pool of election commissioners. Those will be working with 10 voting machines, the same number in service for early voting at the courthouse in Benton.

Agee submitted a request for $75,810 for the new site and that figure was secured when the police jury voted Wednesday to approve the new year’s budget.

Final step to preparing the new site will be a secure data drop, or secured line, at the History Center between the voting place and the Secretary of State’s office, she said.

“The History Center is a good central location,” Agee said. “Our thoughts are always on convenience and security when we select a voting site and this has what we want.”

Does easier access to an early voting site mean voters will turn out in greater numbers? Agee hopes this is the case.

“It gives people from Elm Grove to Bossier City to Haughton a better opportunity to turn out early,” she said. “We’re giving the people eight days to vote and we’re moving the voting place closer to them. I think it’s an incentive and an opportunity.”

Numbers show approximately 71,000 registered voters in Bossier Parish. Campaign managers say a large majority of those voters live in and around Bossier City. Agee said early voting numbers seem to show that a site closer to home might mean more voting prior to election days.

“We kept stats on early voting on those who live just in the city limits of Bossier City and in every election, that percentage went up. About 41 percent of those in the election were Bossier City voters,” she said.