The Arkansas legislature’s decision to move up presidential primary voting to March to be part of Super Tuesday means early voting gets underway today.
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There are only a handful of contested races in the party primaries in Arkansas, with most attention (though of limited import at the national level) focused on the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. On the Republican side, there’s some interest in how many will cast a vote for William Weld or Rockey De La Fuente over the incumbent national disgrace. On the Democratic side, there are the questions of whether Michael Bloomberg can buy a significant showing and whether Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s endorsement of Bloomberg has pulling power in Pulaski County. There are 18 Democratic candidates to choose from. Arkansas, though a minor player nationally, will provide some clue on whether Joe Biden’s campaign will have any staying power after poor early showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The primaries are held in conjunction with nominally non-partisan races for judgeships. There are many judicial contests on the ballot in Pulaski County, owing primarily to several retirements from circuit court seats. The most important race is for an open seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court. In that race, experienced trial Judge Morgan “Chip: Welch faces Barbara Webb, wife of Republican Party Chair Doyle Webb. She’s been designated by the business lobby as a cheaper route to limiting damage lawsuits than a constitutional amendment. She’s running an overtly partisan race, despite judicial ethics rules that discourage candidates from using partisan endorsements. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has contributed to her campaign along with many Republican county committees and Doyle Webb has been exerting his partisan influence in numerous ways. Bigger still as a partisan factor is the spending by an essentially dark money source, the Republican Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative. It hasn’t reported the size of its spending yet, but it has already bought radio advertising airing in Little Rock and is paying for mailers that are hitting boxes around the state. It spent $2.6 million trying to defeat Justice Courtney Hudson in 2018, but Hudson had to survive a runoff. The March 3 vote this year will decide this race. I’d predict a good half-million from the corporate-funded Republican money machine, which will file no report of individual contributors in Arkansas. Webb is leading the money race, thanks to help from corporate PAC and GOP contributions. Welch is drawing support primarily from lawyers, which Webb characterizes as a fault, (though she and her husband are lawyers, too.)
In Pulaski County, there are 11 early voting sites, including the election commission office at Markham and Broadway and libraries. The downtown voting hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Hours vary at other locations. This link has all the information, plus a list of all the races on the ballot. A handful of legislative and Quorum Court races appear on the Democratic and Republican ballots, including the regular election for House District 34, once held by the late John Walker. An earlier special election to fill that seat for the remainder of this year ended in a tie between Ryan Davis and Joy Springer. They are on the ballot for a full term as well.