The Sebastian County Election Commission plans to again consider a proposed new polling place at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith in an upcoming meeting. In an Aug. 9 letter to the election commission, UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley requested a vote center on the UAFS campus.
“As the chancellor of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, I am often provided the opportunity to support our students and community in their endeavors to become more informed and better engaged citizens. As a regional public institution, serving our community is one of our core missions. And I can think of no better way to advance that mission than by having a Sebastian County vote center on the UAFS campus on election day,” Riley said in the letter.
She said she had discussed it with her cabinet and all believed the university would be able to accommodate any Sebastian County voters safely and efficiently while providing a convenient and central location for students, employees and alumni. The letter said the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center is accessible and well-known, and the university was committed to reserving sufficient parking spots in the lots nearest to this building to accommodate voters on election day during primaries and during general elections.
The Campus Center also has physical accommodations to meet the needs of every citizen, including a circle drive, wheelchair-accessible sidewalks, and automatic-open doors, Riley said.
“The Campus Center operations team will also ensure that clear wayfinding signage is posted throughout the facility. We believe Campus Center room 129 would be optimal to support voter access as this room is located directly inside the facility’s main entrance,” she wrote in the letter.
The room has two doors that can be used as entry and exit points and allow a straight flow of traffic while ensuring the safety of poll workers. Security concerns also were addressed in the letter.
“Because the security of the voting machines and of the other elections-related materials is of utmost importance, Campus Center room 129 and multiple adjacent rooms offer key-only access to ensure voting machines and materials are stored safely and securely. Our University Police Department is also available to assist in security needs, if requested,” Riley wrote in the letter.
According to Election Commissioner Lee Webb, the commission and staff toured the UAFS site prior to an Aug. 29 commission meeting. Webb said the commission was assured that parking and easy access would not be a problem. He said it was “an ideal” site because it would serve a concentrated group of likely voters.
“Everything was looking good. We thought it was a done deal. But then she voted no,” Webb said of Commissioner Cara Gean’s surprise opposition at the Aug. 29 commission meeting, at which the new voting location was addressed.
It takes a unanimous vote to open and close a polling location. Because only two of the three commissioners were present at that meeting, Chairman Jason Vineyard said the subject of the proposed polling location at UAFS would be addressed again at an upcoming meeting. Vineyard said there would be a special meeting called as soon as they could find a time when all three commissioners could be present.
“We’re hopeful to have someone from UAFS there for that meeting as well,” Vineyard said.
Riley said the university’s primary interest in the on campus polling location comes from its institutional value placed on civic rights and responsibilities.
“One way to instill the value of a democratic society is by hosting a voting location on campus. Many universities across the country host these locations, and rightly so since public universities are open to all citizens. We want to sustain democracy by providing safe and convenient ways for students and employees to vote,” Riley said.