Noted: The original proclamation for the May 9 Little Rock School District tax election showed that early voting would be held in two places beginning May 2 — the county office building at 501 W. Markham and the McMath Library on John Barrow Road.
The proclamation has been revised. Now early voting will be held at only one place — the downtown location, convenient to downtown office workers, who will be encouraged to vote by the chamber of commerce types backing the $600 million, 14-year tax addition. The McMath Library, which happens to be amidst a majority black neighborhood served by several public schools, was omitted.
I’ve questions pending on why the district and Election Commission decided to have fewer early voting locations and to omit a popular polling place in a black neighborhood. Opponents of the tax are suspicious. Several important black leaders have spoken out against the tax because of the resistance of the state to a return of local control, in the hands of a majority black elected school board before the state takeover.
Advocates of the tax have acknowledged to me the expectation of a racial divide in voting. The district is majority black, but the campaign for the tax is focusing on higher income predominantly white neighborhoods to spur turnout and hoping for low turnouts in black neighborhoods. Omitting the Barrow Road voting place won’t increase black turnout.
UPDATE 1: Bryan Poe, the county election commission’s director, said the decision was made by the school district. They didn’t give a reason. He said it likely would have cost about $2,000 in poll workers and facility charges to operate the library site. Still waiting to hear from Mike Poore. I hope the $2,000 isn’t offered as an excuse, given the $26 million the district rakes every year in excess of what’s required to meet debt payments.
UPDATE 2: Michael Poore, the superintendent, said it was an “easy” question. He said he’d been advised special elections typically used only one early voting location. In a special election in May 2015, the Pulaski County School District used only one early voting place, Bryan Poe said. But a Jacksonville school election last February used locations in both downtown and Jacksonville. Poe couldn’t find the last time the Little Rock School District had a special election. The city of Little Rock has done it both ways, all early voting sites and only one downtown, Poe said. He said the cost of additional sites had discouraged multiple locations given turnout.
Poore said the district had explored using more sites, but “felt the safest route was to stick with how all special elections have historically been handled.”
UPDATE 3: Bryan Poe of the Election Commission said this is how it went down. The Election Commission voted the election notice March 9, including at the district’s request a voting center at McMath Library and also shifting the Arkansas Arts Center poll for Precinct 114 to the Dunbar Community Center with Precinct 118 because the Arts Center wouldn’t be availabe. Later, Poe said, the Commission was informed that the School District had persuaded the Arts Center to make space for voting available and asked to return the voters in the precinct closer to their homes and also to drop the McMath library. The Commission did that on
April March 16. Poe said the election commission point of contact on most election issues was Jack Truemper, who works at Stephens Inc., which will handle the bond refinance. Poe noted this wasn’t the first change in this election. It had originally been scheduled in March, but the district delayed the election, almost certainly on account of unfavorable political conditions at that time.
Judging by recent development downtown, I’d hazard a guess that the voting precinct around the Arkansas Arts Center has a much higher percentage of white voters than the neighborhood around Dunbar, where AAC voters would have had to vote had not this original voting place been restored.