JOSHUA PRICE: Election commissioner says poll access will expand, not contract, in Pulaski County.

Early voting begins Tuesday for the special Democratic primary election (there are no Republican or other candidates) to fill the House District 34 seat held by the late Rep. John Walker.

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Candidates are Ryan Davis, Lee Miller, Joy Springer and Otis Tyler.

Polling places are listed here for the Jan. 14 election.

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Early voting will be conducted at the county regional building on Broadway from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 7-13, weekdays only. No Saturday voting.

Also, voters may cast ballots from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday next week at the McMath Library, 4521 John Barrow Rd.; Sue Cowan Williams Library, 1800 S. Chester St., and Roosevelt Thompson Library, 38 Rahling Circle.

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Polls will be open election day, Jan. 14, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The Election Commission and its duties were on my mind because I got an update this week from Joshua Price, the Democrat on the three-member Election Commission. It has been embroiled in controversy because of the heavy-handed tactics of the Republican chair of the commission, Evelyn Gomez and the other Republican member, Kristi McKinnon. Their lack of communication with the county clerk and stifling of staff in talking with reporters, among other problems, after four years of quiet leadership by Republican Pat Hays, who moved out of state, were so problematic that County Judge Barry Hyde reasserted his constitutional authority to oversee the commission’s full-time staff. The Commission remains in charge of hiring poll workers.

One issue that had begun to bubble in commission discussions was an idea to create voting centers, where voters from multiple precincts can cast election ballots. This is an idea with pros and cons. The pros are added convenience. For example, a voting center at a heavily populated place like a college campus could encourage voting by people who might have difficulty getting to a poll on election day. But if regional centers come at the cost of closing neighborhood polls, that could make voting more inaccessible, especially for those who lack transportation. Poor people, incidentally, are often targeted by Republican vote suppression tactics.

Price offered good news  in response to my question about voting center plans and poll access in Pulaski County:

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I will say that as of right now, there are no plans to close any of our current voting locations, in fact we are opening two additional early voting locations for the March 3, 2020 Preferential Primary Election:

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library located at 4800 W. 10th St.
  • John Gould Fletcher Library located at 823 North Buchanan St.

With the addition of these two locations, there will be a total of 11 early voting polling locations for the primary election, which should increase voter turnout by giving them more options.

 

It takes a unanimous vote of all three Election Commissioners to open or close any polling location, and I assure you that I will not be voting to close any of our current locations.

 

Before we even discuss moving to a vote center system, the Pulaski County Election Commission and the Pulaski County Clerk’s office will gather voter behavioral data (where and when folks vote the most often, any trends, etc.) through the new electronic poll books the Clerk’s office is getting in November as well as through hosting multiple public hearings across the county to gauge our residents’ opinions. We will then make our recommendation to the Quorum Court based on that information, but we don’t anticipate this happening until 2021 at the earliest.

I can’t tell you Gomez’s and McKinnon’s opinions on the topic. They don’t return my calls or e-mails. One of Gomez’s actions, you might remember, was canceling the Election Commission’s $10/month subscription to the Arkansas Times. Or as Gomez called it, “Max Brantley’s little rag.” (Clarification: McKinnon did once respond to an e-mail query by instructing a staff member to tell me not to use the email for her $65,471-state DFA job to ask her questions. I have declined to obey that command sent by intermediary given that she apparently has no intention of responding wherever my questions are sent.)