Van Buren county is reducing its 21 polling places to FOUR vote centers (according to the AR Dem-Gaz today). Nice how this county and others in AR have folded to the AR SOS plan to convince Quorum Courts to reduce costs, but unknowingly also reducing voting opportunities.
— Susan Inman (@Inman4AR) November 4, 2019
Having delved into recent actions of the Pulaski County Election Commission the last few days my attention was drawn to blog posts on the Progressive Arkansas Women blog by Susan Inman, someone who knows a thing or two about voting.
Inman a former Pulaski election coordinator who also oversaw voting duties in the secretary of state’s office, has had a couple of recent blog posts about problems with the Arkansas election system that tend to discourage voting.
Here she faults Secretary of State John Thurston for, among others, a refusal to take bids on new voting machines. He instead chose to stick with a long-time supplier. She also notes his subsidy of the well-to-do Benton County general fund with a cash handout to purchase voting machines, while pushing poorer counties to save money in a way that discourages voting. She writes:
Little inside secret… The SOS will bargain with those poorer counties needing new machines to reduce polling locations and thus the number of machines needed. The SOS will push counties to create Vote Centers, which reduce voter access and turnout (See my blog of August 4, 2019.)
As Arkansans and taxpayers, the questions we should be asking are:
When are we going to stop throwing away tax dollars on expensive vote “gear” that has to be constantly replaced?
When are we going to demand that voting be available to every registered voter in our state, not just to those who have a car and are able to drive to a distant Vote Center?
When are we going to demand Vote by Mail in Arkansas?
Answers: As long as Republicans like Thurston call the shots, never.
But here let me inject a note of optimism about a Republican, Evelyn Gomez, chair of the Pulaski County Election Commission. She’s been in the news lately because her overt partisanship has prompted a move by the county to resume oversight of the full-time staff of six who oversee elections in the county. A measure of her partisanship — and a reflection of her Trump-style preference for silencing dissenting voices — came in September when she purged a $10-a-month subscription the Election Commission had for that “rag,” the Arkansas Times, and my blog. Which is fine by me, by the way. I do think a tandard of avoiding public spending on periodicals with political slants should apply to all, including the $400-a-year subscription for the Republican Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. As Republican and Jefferson County Election Commission Chairman Stu Soffer has noted, if the election commission purchases legal ads in the newspaper it need only shell out for a single copy the day the ad appears as verification, not a full-year subscription
But never mind that petty concern. In a review of recent election commission meetings for other information on Gomez’s leadership (she once referred to the Republican County Committee as her “constituents”), I found she commented at a meeting last May that she was “100 percent against” voting centers. I need to know more before a full endorsement, but perhaps my critic Gomez and I and Susan Inman could find some common ground.
UPDATE: Oops. Gomez has gotten right with her party bosses. I was pointed to a recent Democrat-Gazette article in which she remonstrated County Judge Barry Hyde for not coming up with money for voting centers. She favors them now. Figures. As Inman indicates, they can discourage poor people from voting. County officials say they are open to the idea, but they want to be careful. Clerk Terri Hollingsworth said she wants to be sure they don’t disenfranchise voters. Hollingsworth is a Democrat and thus in favor of more voters.
UPDATE: Here’s another installment in Susan Inman’s series on how Arkansas presents too many obstacles to voting, whether early, absentee or at the polls.