With early voting less than a week away in Arkansas, election officials in Arkansas and around the country are preparing for a historic deluge at the polls as presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have ramped up campaign rhetoric concerning voter fraud, intimidation and security.
According to Chris Powell, spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin, there are a record 1,754,243 registered voters in Arkansas as of Tuesday (Oct. 18), compared to 1,690,577 ahead of the 2012 election and 1,684,240 in 2008. And as state election officials make final preparations for early voting to begin next week, Powell said that tally will likely be updated as last-minute registrations get processed from the Oct. 11 voter registration deadline in most Arkansas counties.
“We are in contact with the counties as they gear up for early voting and election day,” Powell said. “We are working to get our election night reporting system set up.”
In response to concerns about possible disruptions at the voting booth, nervous election officials in Arkansas and other states are holding election preparedness meetings with county election officials and representatives from the presidential campaigns, state political parties, legislative campaign committees and voter advocacy groups. The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) on Tuesday released a statement saying it cannot allow unsubstantiated claims calling into question the systemic integrity of the election process to shake voter confidence or disrupt voting in the run-up to election day on Nov. 8.
“With concerns about ‘rigging’ and ‘hacking’ elections permeating media coverage of the presidential campaigns, state election chiefs want to assure Americans that our process is fairly administered and well-secured, with built-in structural safeguards to ensure honest outcomes and accurate results,” NASS said in a statement.
In the past week, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said the presidential election is rigged against him and has asked his voters to monitor the polls locally. In response to Trump’s claim, Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton said Monday she will fight if elected president to restore the portions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court to make sure that all citizens enjoy the full protections they deserve.
Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, who is listed as NASS member on the organization’s website, did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
EARLY VOTING BEGINS OCT. 24
Despite a record number of registered voters in Arkansas, it remains to be seen if voters over the next few weeks will turnout as they did in the 2008 election, when President Barack Obama was elected to his first term in office against Republican candidate John McCain. In that election, a record 1,086,617 voters or 64.52% of the electorate participated in the Democratic process in which 638,017 or 58.72% of the votes were cast for McCain and Sarah Palin ticket, while Obama and his running mate Joe Biden received 422,310, or 38.86% of the votes.
Although there were more slightly more registered voters in the 2012 presidential election, only 852,642 or 50.43% of state’s electorate made in to the polls in which President Obama won his second term over Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Brian Poe, director of elections for Pulaski County, said his staff has gone through a number of training sessions to prep for a fairly large turnout for early voting on Oct. 24 through election day on Nov. 8.
“We are expecting a pretty good turnout that will be significantly better than the 2014 election, and on par with the 2008 and 2012 elections,” Poe said.
Despite concerns raised at the national level by Trump requesting volunteers to sign up to be poll watchers in urban areas, Poe said his staff has not dealt with any concerns about voter eligibility because they will not engage with poll watchers until the day of the election. Poe said Pulaski County election officials have already tested voting machines and equipment and will deliver them to nine early voting sites on Monday before voting begins from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, counties officials across the state are ramping up for large voter turnouts across the state. For example, the Randolph County Election Commission, in far northeast Arkansas, conducted public testing on Monday of voting equipment to be used for early voting and election day. On the other side of the state, Sebastian County election officials have expanded the number of early voting sites from three to five. The two new locations are Harvest Time, 3100 Briar Cliff Ave., in Fort Smith and Creekmore Community Center, 3301 S. M St., in Fort Smith.
The other locations are at the East Side Baptist Church, 2710 Massard Road, in Fort Smith, the Sebastian County Courthouse, 35 S. Sixth St., in Fort Smith and Greenwood City Hall, 30 Bell Road, in Greenwood.
OTHER STATE ELECTION PREP
Other states are also expecting large voter turnouts for the hotly contested presidential race and prepared to for any possible disruptions in the election process. On Oct. 14, Pennsylvania election officials held a meeting that highlighted guidance regarding conduct at the polling place, as well as the proper processes for addressing issues that may arise on Election Day.
“At the Department of State, our chief goal is to ensure that Pennsylvania has a fair, secure and smooth election on November 8,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortés. “This meeting provided those involved in the process an opportunity to receive information directly from those of us in the state that administer the electoral process.”
According to Pennsylvania state election officials, county personnel provided an overview of guidance addressing various topics, including individuals permitted inside the polling place, poll watcher rules, voter challenge procedures and voter intimidation. Provisional ballot procedures, common scenarios that occur on Election Day and the proper response were also discussed.
In Texas, where Secretary of State Carlos Cascos announced on Oct. 13 that state has an all-time record of more than 15 million registered voters, state officials there began a bilingual education campaign last month that will continue until election day on Nov. 8.
“I’m excited to kick off Vote Texas with these first-time and future voters who are the cornerstone of our democracy,” Cascos said. “As the state’s chief election officer, I take very seriously the responsibility of making sure every eligible Texan who wants to vote in the upcoming election has the necessary information to do so.”
According to Texas election officials, nearly 78% of Texas’ estimated voting age population of 19,307,355 are registered for this year’s election. Voting age population estimates include Texans who may not be eligible to vote such as non-citizens or convicted felons who have not yet fully discharged their sentence, officials said.
In the last presidential election year, Texas had 13,646,226 registered voters or 75% of voting age population. In 2008, the number was 13,575,062 or roughly 77% of the voting age population. Like Arkansas, the last day to register in Texas in time for the November election was last weekend.
President Obama jumped into the voting fracas when responding to a reporter’s question about Trump’s claim of a rigged election, telling the Republican candidate to “stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes.”
“I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history, any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections process before votes have even taken place,” the president said. “It’s unprecedented, and it happens to be based on no facts.”