Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Students successfully oppose loss of polling places in Conway

Posted By on Wed, Dec 2, 2015 at 7:10 AM

Graydon Carter, a Hendrix College student, reports from Conway where a student protest apparently short-circuited a proposal by the Faulkner County Election Commission to remove election day polling places from Hendrix and the University of Central Arkansas. This was part of a plan to create 24 "voting centers" for the election March 1.

He messaged me on Twitter:

There were interesting developments in the Faulkner County election commission tonight. A motion was proposed to remove voting centers on the Hendrix and UCA campuses. It was proposed that these centers would be replaced with voting locations established for one day during early voting on the campuses. Hendrix students comprised half of the meeting, and responded to the motion negatively. Hendrix faculty including Jay Barth were also in attendance, responding similarly. The motion was amended to create voting centers on Election Day at both schools. The amended motion was just passed. 

Carter said polls were open on the campuses in 2014. He said some on the commission contended those polls had not been "economically efficient" and that supporters of the idea said that closing the poll — along with one day of on-campus early voting — was intended as a way to INCREASE turnout. 

Carter thinks the aim was to suppress the youth vote. It's not an unreasonable conclusion given the facts — poll versus no poll on the day when people are most focused on the election, particularly in a presidential year.

Coincidence: This is the first year since the 2014 elections — when Republicans swept statewide elected offices — that county election commissions are now controlled by majority Republican appointees. The majority party — as determined by which party holds the majority of statewide offices — gets two of the three seats on every county election commission.

Another coincidence: half of the Hendrix College student body has been registered to vote in Faulkner County. Polls tend to show a Democratic lean among younger voters.

The Log Cabin Democrat report says Hendrix staff also said the campus polling center was a benefit to 400 campus employees. It was noted, too, that campus people staff the centers, eliminating the burden for the county. Initially, the commission was holding fast to closing the poll.

“We have been considering these centers and have looked at the numbers,” said Election Commission Chair Paul Foster. “The numbers say it should be an early voting site. It is better for the county to have UCA and Hendrix in early voting. If you do miss the early voting, you can get a friend or somebody and get a ride to a center.”

But after the outcry, and after a recess, Commissioner Ronnie Hall amended his original motion and restored the campus voting centers, for a total of 26.

PS — An election commissioner in another county tells me that, in most cases, a unanimous vote is required to move a polling place, so that could have been an obstacle in Conway, too.

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