JONESBORO, Ark. — Some endured heat. Others endured the rain and cold. Such is the nature of Arkansas weather, after all. Some waited for upwards of an hour. Some made it through in mere minutes. Some came to see change. Some came because they like things the way they are. One young man showed up on crutches to cast his first ballot.
In all, there was one constant; they all expressed their voice.
The 2020 Election officially started in Arkansas Oct. 19 with early voting options across the state. More than half a million Arkansans have already cast their ballot as of Oct. 29. However, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the voting process has changed across the nation.
In Arkansas, in-person early voting is still available, though the process has changed a bit. Early voters won’t just be casting their vote for president but will also vote on several state-level issues. Early voting stretches through Nov. 2, with Election Day quickly approaching on Nov. 3.
It’s an election unlike any other.
VOTE EARLY, VOTE OFTEN
“I’ve never seen so many people early voting. It’s rather exciting to see so many people exercising their right to vote. I think nothing but good can come from that,” Chris Hughes said. Hughes is a Jonesboro resident and real estate agent. “I think it went about as well as you could expect it to.”
Hughes said he was in line for “about an hour” before casting his early ballot. He added the poll workers were “pleasant” and made everything run as smoothly as possible.
With social distancing practices in place, lines may seem longer than they are. Outside the Craighead County Election Annex, no one enforces social distancing. However, most voters willingly stood at least a few feet apart. The line stretched around the building but moved rather quickly.
Christie Leasure, a Jonesboro resident, was one of those voters who endured both the line and the elements.
“It’s a little different, being 2020. I think they should carry it like this every year. It went really well. I enjoyed it.” Leasure said.
Once inside, poll workers enforce social distancing as voters make their way to open voting machines. All voters in line were wearing masks, as is required by state ordinance. Voters made their way to the counter to receive their ballots, then went behind the curtain to cast their votes.
Patience Cross, a voter, Walmart employee and Jonesboro citizen, said she heard nothing but good things about new election practices.
“So far, it seems like they’ve handled it pretty well. We’ve had friends that have come through that have had really good impressions of what’s gone on so far,” Cross said.
In Arkansas, early voting numbers are much higher than they were during the 2016 election. In Arkansas, early voting starts 15 days before the election. In 2016, through nine days, 449,079 Arkansans cast early ballots. In 2020, through the first nine days of early voting, that number jumped to 643,629 votes.
However, in Craighead County, the numbers aren’t nearly as gaudy.
In total, voters cast 22,392 early ballots in Craighead County in 2016. Through eight days in 2020, 17,603 voters have submitted their votes. Jennifer Clack, Craighead County Election Coordinator, predicts the 2020 numbers to virtually mirror the 2016 numbers. She said she doesn’t believe the numbers will be much different, despite the perception of a higher early voting turnout.
The presidential election is always atop the ticket for a reason. It’s easily the most popular, overly covered race every election cycle. However, for Arkansas citizens, several other races and issues could be more impactful than the presidential election.
“I’m trying to early vote and beat the rush on (Election Day). The presidential race, the Arkansas Term Limits Amendment and Issue No. 1 (are a big focus for me),” Roosevelt Patterson, a physical therapy assistant from Jonesboro, said. “From what I’ve seen, turnout looks good. I don’t think there will be many people out on Tuesday because everybody seems to be early voting.”
Arkansas Issue No. 1, the Transportation Sales Tax Continuation Amendment, would continue a 0.5% sales tax enacted in 2012. The tax will expire in 2023 unless Issue No. 1 passes. If it does, the tax will become permanent. Currently, the revenue from the tax goes toward state and local highways, roads and bridges.
Howard French, an 82-year old Jonesboro resident, is not happy with how the state has handled the tax.
“All the money they wasted on Interstate 555. They tore out a whole new highway almost. There are a lot worse highways than what’s out there. U.S. Highway 67 is terrible down through Searcy and Beebe. It’s terrible,” French said.
Arkansas Issue No. 2, nicknamed the “Term Limits Amendment,” is a bit more convoluted. Though framed as a term limit amendment, it would essentially end term limits for the Arkansas legislature.
Currently, Arkansas senators and representatives can serve up to 16 years in the Arkansas General Assembly. If Issue No. 2 passes, that would be amended to restrict legislatures to terms that could last no more than 12 consecutive years but would allow them to return after a four-year break.
It would eliminate the 16-year hard cap and allow legislatures to potentially hold office for a lifetime, so long as they have a four-year break after every 12-year stint.
Arkansas Issue No. 3, the Initiative Process and Legislative Referral Requirements Amendment, deals with citizens’ ability to petition the state government.
The proposed amendment would triple the required distribution of signatures on any petition. Under current law, half of the valid signatures must come from 15 counties. Under the new amendment, that number would spike to 45 counties. Not only would this amendment increase the required distribution of signatures, but it would also decrease the time to do so by six months. The amendment would push the deadline to submit a petition back from mid-July to Jan. 15.
More so, the amendment would also eliminate the “extra chance” petitions get as well. Currently, deadlines can extend by 30 days if a petition has at least 75% of the needed signatures. Under the new law, this grace period would no longer exist.
Finally, the measure would impose an April 15 deadline to challenge any November ballot issue. It would also require a three-fifths vote instead of a simple majority in both the house and senate to refer a measure to voters.
THE BOTTOM LINE
No matter if turnout is higher or lower in 2020, several issues brought voters to the polls. Whether those reasons are rooted in the presidential election or local issues is up to the individual voter.
“(Democratic Presidential nominee Joseph) Biden brought me to the polls to vote for (President Donald) Trump. I’m voting against Biden. I was going to vote Republican down the line. I’m so sick of Democrats and their shenanigans,” French said.
“Women’s rights (brought me to the polls),” Cross said.
“It’s got to be Trump, all the way,” Leasure said.
Jim Welch, a Jonesboro resident, laid out several factors that brought him to the polls.
“(My top priority is) keeping our country going. Lower unemployment, a great economy; we have to keep that going. The biggest part is electing a new mayor. We’re seeing Jonesboro grow year after year, and we want to keep that going,” Welch said.
Patterson painted a bleak picture of the general election, but in doing so, highlighted the overall atmosphere of the election.
“It’s probably one of the meanest and dirtiest (election cycles) I’ve witnessed in my time as a voter,” Patterson said. “I haven’t really heard anything about policy. I’ve just heard about personal attacks. No one is really talking about policy and how we’re going to go forward as a nation.”
Vote. It matters.