In the days after this week's election, some citizens around the country had problems voting, including in Arkansas. KUAR’s Sarah Kellogg spoke with ACLU Arkansas Legal Director Holly Dickson about the voting issues her office heard about on Election Day.
SARAH KELLOGG: "Looking back to election day, what were some of the main issues that you saw at the polls?"
HOLLY DICKSON: "Well, we saw a lot of voters trying to find their polling places, I think in large part due to closures of polling places across Arknasas. We got a lot of phone calls from voters with voter ID issues where the voter ID law was being enforced in the polling places in ways that were not lawful. The poll workers were not giving provisional ballots, or were requiring an exact address match, things of that nature that are outside of what the law provides."
KELLOGG: "Can you tell me a little bit more about the closing of the polling places? Were they just not well advertised? What were, kind of, the effects of the closing of these areas?"
DICKSON: "Well, the Arkansas Secretary of State received federal funding in order to help Arkansas further implement the federal Help America Vote Act. And they offered money to the counties as assistance to get new voting equipment, but in many cases, the county’s share for the new voting equipment was cost prohibitive for the counties. So the Secretary of State facilitated the closure or suggested the closure of polling places in some counties to make the new voting equipment more affordable. Also it seems that in multiple counties there were longer lines and wait periods to vote. In some cases, due to equipment malfunctions. Of course, turnout plays a role in that, but then also we received some calls from voters that the lines were longer, they thought, because there were fewer voting machines in their polling place then they had had in previous years."
KELLOGG: "What were some potential consequences then, if a voter went to their polling place and found that it was closed and they didn’t know it?"
DICKSON: "You know, some voters didn’t have the luxury of trying to locate or go to the new polling place. It definitely suppresses voter participation and turnout, anytime it’s made more difficult for people to vote. Also the longer lines, you know. We had multiple reports of people leaving instead of staying to vote. "
KELLOGG: "So looking forward, what can Arkansas do to alleviate some of these problems?"
DICKSON: "Well, Arkansas needs to take a hard look at out voting and election laws and tweak them in several manners to make it, make the process more user friendly for voters. We have a lot of red tape in it now. Our 30 day registration deadline in and of itself is prohibitive for many people. Making sure that the county boards provide updated polling place information to the clerks and that the clerks update the statewide database. You know, specifying that in law would be helpful. Spending money and time to have an actual voter education campaign effort would be helpful. There are a myriad of ways that we could improve voting and elections in this state."
This story began with a tip from ProPublica’s Electionland project, which monitors voting problems around the country. If you had trouble voting, or if you saw something you want to report, here’s how.