Opponents of the 14-year, $600 million extension of 12.4 mills in Little Rock School District property taxes took their case for more early voting places in the May 9 special election to the Pulaski County Election Commission this afternoon.
According to an account from Samantha Toro, a member of Save Our Schools, the groups were told what I’d been told before. The district had asked for a polling place at the McMath library on John Barrow Road in addition to the early polling place at election commission offices downtown on Markham Street. But then Jack Truemper, an employee of Stephens Inc., which works for the district on financial issues, told the commission to drop the McMath polling place.
Opponents of the tax think the decision was meant to depress voting in the surrounding predominantly black neighborhood, where opposition is expected because of the state abolition of a majority black school board two years ago. It’s also true, however, that the McMath library is in reasonable proximity to the upper income, mostly white, neighborhoods in the western reaches of the district that have reason to support the tax because the state moved after takeover to add a middle school in their neighborhood so children didn’t have to attend majority black and poor Henderson Middle.
Libraries that have traditionally been used for voting are booked on May 9, the groups were told. But they were given an opportunity to come up with some alternative early voting sites by Monday.
Here’s Toro’s account of what transpired (Facebook video of the meeting here):
The Commission was very receptive to our presence and tried their best to answer our questions regarding the closure of McMath Library as an early voting site for the upcoming LRSD millage election.
As you previously reported, the Commission said they did not initiate the decision to close McMath — that decision came from the district and was communicated to them through Jack Truemper of Stephens, Inc. The Commission said they do not know the district’s rationale for closing the site.
They said the traditional early voting sites of McMath, Williams, and Dee Brown Libraries are currently unavailable for the week of early voting. We asked that if another eligible voting site (that met all of their qualifications) volunteered to serve as an early voting site, whether would they consider approving a 2nd early voting site. They agreed, but said they are on a strict deadline and that we need to notify them of the potential new early voting site by Monday at noon.
We are currently scrambling to call our networks in hopes of securing a 2nd early voting location.
At the 8:16 mark of the livestream video, I ask specifically who communicated to them the wish to close McMath and whether it is a conflict of interest for a company that has a vested financial interest in the passage of the millage to be deciding where the early voting sites will be. I didn’t mention this in the meeting, but this point is especially salient considering the business community knows most of black community is against the millage, and the voting site they shut down is in a predominantly black neighborhood.
The Commission responded that the bond company is essentially speaking for the district as their representative, and that yes, they have an interest, but their interest is the same as the district’s. I don’t know if this is how things are typically done but, to me, this seems very odd and extremely prone to conflict of interest.
I’ve had an FOI request pending with the district for several days on the fees — legal, advisory, underwriting — that would be paid and to whom if the bond refinancing is approved. I have also asked the district why election decisions seem to have been delegated to a bond firm.