John Lyon with the Arkansas News Bureau, Jason Tolbert with The Tolbert Report, and Suzi Parker with Politics Daily have raised issues regarding an interesting dilemma should any of the statewide races – including the U.S. Senate Democratic run-off – be particularly close.
Garland County, about 50 miles southwest of Little Rock, has reduced its number of polling locations from 41 in the May 18 primary to just two in the June 8 run-off. There was also a discrepancy about early voting on Saturday, which was abruptly called off.
The move to reduce polling sites, which was made by the Garland County Election Commission in an effort to save money (even though the state pays for primary and run-off elections), has arguably disenfranchised a number of voters who may not be able to get to the polls on Election Day. They could have problems navigating transportation to the polls on account of age or distance or their work schedules may not allow enough time off to travel to the polls, wait in line, cast a ballot and return to work.
The theory goes that if the Senate race (or Secretary of State or Land Commissioner) is razor-thin, then a legal challenge could look to overturn results in this county.
Here’s why its unlikely to happen:
1. Judges are always cautious to overturn election results. There are few cases in Arkansas history where a judge – state or federal – tosses election returns. The people rule, and even in some instances of egregious voting discrepancies, the courts typically chastise election officials and let the results stand.
2. Garland County has reduced polling sites before and survived a legal challenge. In a special election in 2005, Hot Springs voters decided to allow for electronic games of skill at Oaklawn. The legislature had constructed a "vote of the people" threshold to determine if the controversial gambling expansion should take place. In that election, Garland County only opened a handful of polling sites in Hot Springs. Ballot access was questioned in court, but the election commission’s decision prevailed. There was a special election on a tax issue in more recent years based on a similar argument in which the election commission was challenged and won.
3. If any candidate or campaign had a concern in this run-off about ballot access with the reduced polling sites, the issue was raised with ample time for a lawsuit to be filed, put on the fast track and decided. A court could have forced the county to open more polling locations on Election Day if it determined there was a grievance.
There is a lot of chatter among political circles today regarding the possibility of legal action depending on tonight’s returns. But, a "do-over" is unlikely as we’ve pointed out. Let’s hope the returns are decisive enough that it won’t matter. Now, a recount – well, that’s a totally different animal.