Four day into early voting in Arkansas, the state’s Democratic Party raised concerns Thursday about voting issues. Speaking to reporters at the state party headquarters in Little Rock, party leaders said they were concerned about voter identification requirements, improper voter purges and incorrect ballots.
The party has created a voter protection hotline for people who encounter any problems. The number is 501-246-0060.
Director of Voter Protection, Camille Bennett, said this should be a non-partisan issue and that she is working with one Republican attorney who is volunteering for the Democratic Party. She said the biggest problem the party is hearing about are changes in polling locations.
"A lot of the polling locations, or at least some of them, were selected late," Bennett said. "Several of the counties, including Lonoke, significantly reduced the number of polling sites. We think there's going to be a lot of voter confusion, particularly on Election Day."
Bennett said she believes she has heard from each county in Arkansas regarding voting issues. She said about a hundred have been real complaints, compared to asking general questions like locations of voting centers.
Another issue the Democratic Party says that needs to be addressed is education on Arkansas's voter ID laws.
"We're concerned that the Secretary of State has not done a really great job of educating the counties as to what problems can come up, what identification you need," said Bennett. "Different clerks are interepreting the voter identifcation a little differently, so we just think there needs to be a better job done of educating people on what's out there."
Currently state law says a person needs to show a valid photo ID in order to vote, but Bennett says provisional ballots can be cast by voters without an ID.
"If you physically do not have an ID, you actually can cast a provosional ballot, sign an affidavit that you are who you are, and that vote actually counts," she said. "But you should only do that if you do not have an ID because we're encouraging everybody to bring their identification, and there's actually some penalties if you have one and don't present it."
The party is also concerned about candidates being left off the ballot. Earlier this week on the first day of early voting Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, Susan Inman, was left off the ballot in Garland County. Bennett also pointed to an incident in Columbia County where a state representative race was left off the ballot.
Inman is in favor of making Arkansas a vote-by-mail state which, she says, would be more accurate and save the state a lot of money.
"Those ballots [in Garland County] could be corrected because there would be a record of who recieved a ballot and who didn't recieve a ballot," she said.
The legal council for the Arkansas Democratic Party, Chris Burks, said the reason there is cause for voter concern is because there are systemic issues across the state. As an example he pointed to Lonoke County.
"The voting rolls in the voting machines have been stored in a shed basically and that is a major issue with whether the voting rolls are correct and whether the voting machines are secure and functioning properly," Burks said. "That is not the fault of the Lonoke County clerk. That is the fault of the state. It's a systemic issue and the state is not adequately funding, training, and equipping counties to administer elections."
Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Doyle Webb released a statement regarding the Supreme Court upholding Voter ID on the ballot:
“Democrats are intent on creating universal voter registration and mail-in ballot laws while opposing voter ID laws which would create a massive loophole for voter fraud to occur. We believe the sanctity of the vote should be reliable, protected, and accountable. When the referred Voter ID amendment is passed on the ballot, Arkansans will be further assured at the polls that their vote counted.”
According to Terri Hollingsworth, the Democratic candidate for Pulaski County circuit clerk, 17,654 people voted early within the first three days. County election officials anticipate a higher voter turnout for this year's midterms elections compared to 2014 following a national trend.