Favorite

Fayetteville's missed opportunity 

In today's polarized political climate, it's rare that any measure gets public bipartisan support. But I thought the University of Arkansas Associated Student Government's proposal to establish an on-campus early voting center would be uncontroversial and easily approved: The university's chapters of the College Republicans and Young Democrats both had a hand in drafting the proposal and threw their support behind it. So, along with thousands of other faculty, staff and students, I was surprised and disappointed when the Washington County Election Commission voted Aug. 19 to turn it down. (The 2-1 vote fell along party lines, with Republican Commissioners Renee Oelschlaeger and Bill Ackerman voting against the measure and Democratic Commissioner Max Deitchler supporting it.)

Oelschlaeger explained the commission felt the proposal didn't adequately explain the need for a new polling station, as six stations are already located within a mile of the university. This is true, but it misses the spirit of the measure, which wasn't trying to address disenfranchisement, but promote engagement — something that is badly needed in Fayetteville and around the country.

I suspect for many traditional students at UA-Fayetteville, the world outside of campus and Dickson Street might as well not exist. Life consists of going to class, possibly working a part-time job and then hanging out with friends. Yes, students enjoy Fayetteville's beautiful green spaces, growing number of bike lanes and walkability projects, programs at the Walton Arts Center, etc. But most don't actively think about the civic life behind all this development as a process that needs their votes, their involvement and their input (despite active solicitations for such from our planning committees).

Many people remain detached from local politics until they become part of the middle-aged, landed gentry. On the other hand, when they're young and establishing themselves, they complain that there's no one in government who represents the interests of the politically unentrenched. The early voting center proposal presented an opportunity to help break this cycle of disengagement through outreach. This was a chance to advertise to the student body what our city officials are doing to Keep Fayetteville Funky and make it a great place to stay after one graduates.

For nontraditional students, faculty and staff, the convenience would be a nice amenity. Yes, the 5,000 of us who work at the university can go off-campus to vote — but we're already here on campus, and we all have families or other responsibilities to attend to. Having a voting center right by a bus stop could save the thousands who pass through the campus 30 minutes to an hour out of a busy day.

There is also the fact that many of our polling places are churches. It would be nice to have a secular polling station on campus. I am not accusing any particular church of impropriety or failing to keep the premises free of political advertising as required by law. But students and staff who aren't of that particular faith might feel a governmental building is more neutral ground (and the campus is much closer than the county clerk's office). Despite the fact that the Associated Student Government offered to pay the estimated $6,000 to $7,000 required to establish a new voting center, Commissioner Ackerman said he was leery of its potential fiscal impact. However, the proposal's supporters always emphasized its experimental nature. We don't really know if the projected 81 percent of the 27,000 students at the university would actually turn out and vote if the proposal was implemented — but we could find out. This is a revocable decision that would have provided invaluable data on how a polling center at the state's flagship university affects student voter engagement.

The proposal for an early voting center wasn't simply about improving the logistics of voting. It was about civic education and outreach. I hope that despite the setback, the ASG will develop the outreach rung of the proposal and bring it back before the commission next year. If more students were at least passingly aware of our local politics, they might prepare to engage more deeply as they decide to become permanent residents of our community. At the Aug. 19 meeting, Commissioner Oelschlaeger made the remark that "democracy is not convenient always." Perhaps — but that doesn't make inconvenience a virtue worthy of preservation.

Ebony Buckley is an employee at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

Favorite

Speaking of Washington County Election Commission, University Of Arkansas

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • Arkansas condones child abuse?

    If Harrises and Duggars go unpunished, yes.
    • Jun 4, 2015
  • Must address racial inequities

    We mourn for the families of the dead at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. As we grieve it's time to rekindle a conversation about race in America and press for the changes that the Emanuel congregation championed for centuries — changes that also made it a target.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Racism is systemic

    In a speech on Sunday at Bethel A.M.E. Church, Gov. Asa Hutchinson played directly into the narrative of respectability politics, where white people tell people of color how they should respond to a situation and condemn responses from others in the community experiencing anger, rage and other expressions of grief.
    • Jun 25, 2015

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Pork and more

    Some notes on disparate topics before I take a vacation break.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Guest Writer

  • A better now

    The Boys and Men Opportunity Success Team (BMOST), an initiative led by a coalition of local stakeholders that includes the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, city of Little Rock, Arkansas Baptist College, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pulaski Technical College and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, is determined to show you that what you see and hear about black and brown boys and men isn't the whole story.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Intro to ANNN

    The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network is an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.
    • Dec 22, 2016
  • Help all veterans

    Veteran-specific bills often miss the mark on helping the most sympathetic military families by focusing on retirement income.
    • Dec 22, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Better dust off your history books, Runner. The Soviets invaded Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Yugoslavia,…

    • on January 21, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Weakening NATO, the military alliance that has brought stability and prosperity to the west since…

    • on January 21, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Good one, Al. Hell hath no fury, and all that happy horse-shit. I hope Gene…

    • on January 20, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation