Arkansas expects 20% of voters to participate in primaries
The Arkansas secretary of state’s office expects 350,000 to 360,000 people to vote in this year’s primary election.
Leslie Bellamy, director of elections for the office, predicts that 60% of the ballots for the primaries will be cast during the early voting period which began on Monday.
“Many counties have gone to polling centers, which may reduce early voting a bit, but Arkansas is a very large early voting state,” Bellamy said in an interview.
Arkansas is one of 18 states to allow jurisdictions to use voting centers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Polling centers allow voters to vote at any polling center in their area on Election Day, instead of only being allowed in designated precincts.
The last time the state held elections was in 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak. Bellamy says every county has their COVID-19 precautions this year.
“I think there would still be housing in some counties and there would still be pandemic protection items like masks. We certainly want to be respectful if anyone wishes or continues to wear a mask,” Bellamy said. “Basically a lot of it has gone back to how it was done before COVID.”
New district boundaries and legislation
Bellamy says the new district boundaries that were drawn as part of the redistricting process are being used, despite legal challenges to the new maps. If the redrawn districts are found to be unconstitutional, she said, the secretary of state’s office will defer to the courts.
“Probably we would just follow the instructions of the court, whoever it is in deciding how to start the process,” Bellamy said. “To my knowledge, it has never been done so late. We would probably need a lot of insight from the court on how to proceed.
In this election, the state implemented new voting restrictions passed by the legislature last year. The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision and allowed the laws to go into effect. Bellamy said the secretary of state’s office hasn’t received an increase in calls or emails to the office about confusion over the new laws.
Low voter turnout in primaries
Arkansas has about 1.7 million voters, so the 350,000 to 360,000 voters expected to vote in the primary represent about 20 percent of the state’s voters.
Janine Parry, director of Arkansas Poll and professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, said low voter turnout is not unique to Arkansas. In the 2020 presidential election, 24% of voters in the country participated in the primary elections. Parry explained that the nationalization of politics is partly the reason for the lack of turnout in the primaries.
“The presidency is a one-time grand prix that the whole country is aware of and which (essentially) takes place in a single day. These primaries (and runoffs) are distributed in 50 states in a way that most people find incomprehensible and/or boring,” Parry said in an email.
The lack of voter turnout in the primaries should be a public concern, she added.
“Low turnout in state primaries means that only a fraction of a fraction of people determine the election results that govern all subnational policies and politics. And that fraction is not representative of the typical American voter at general election time,” Parry said. “In each case, they will be the strongest supporters of one band or the other: the D’s will be on average more liberal and the R’s more conservative. Candidates know these are the votes they need to get come primaries, so these candidates are appealing to the wings, the fringes, of American political thinking.
Early voting for the primaries will continue until May 24. Arkansas’ most controversial primary races are for Lieutenant Governor and the U.S. Senate.