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Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

Arkansas’ Halter-Lincoln Runoff: Voter Irregularities Brewing

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A voting drama looms in Arkansas’ Democratic senate race between incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
The battleground? Garland County, a populous county that sits 55 miles from Little Rock.
It was the most heavily populated county that Halter won in the May 18 primary. On that day, the county had 41 polling places open, but for Tuesday’s runoff, there will only open two in order to save money.
Obviously, that plan does not set well with Halter.
“We certainly are concerned that Garland County, which has over 80,000 Arkansas citizens and had approximately 40 polling sites for the primary, has now been reduced down to two polling sites,” Halter told reporters Monday during a campaign swing in Little Rock.
Halter received 5,425 votes to Lincoln’s 4,951 in the county, which actually has about 70,507 residents. The third candidate, D.C. Morrison, received 1,882 votes.
It’s not just these voters who may return to vote again on Tuesday. Arkansans who did not vote initially in the May primary can also vote in the runoff election.
If voters turn out like they did on May 18, the two polling places — one in downtown Hot Springs, the other in a retirement village — will not be sufficient enough to handle hundreds of voters per hour.
Some voters would have to drive more than 20 miles in order to cast their ballot. The county is a haven for retirees — a major voting group.
The same two sites open for the runoff were also available for early voting from June 1-4 during regular business hours.
Halter met with Garland County Election Commission Chairman Charles Tapp last Friday to express his concerns; Tapp said he would open one of the sites on Saturday.
However, state law prevents voting on Saturday in a runoff, so the polling place was shut down — after opening briefly on Saturday morning — when Tapp learned of the state law. No voters cast ballots and those who were in line were told they could return on Monday or Tuesday.
According to the secretary of state’s office, when a county election commission changes polling sites since the most recent general election, all affected voters must be notified by mail. In Garland County, that did not happen.
The Halter campaign has invested heavily in its ground game in Hot Springs, the Garland County town where Bill Clinton graduated from high school. In 2006’s general election, Halter received 57 percent of the county vote in his bid for lieutenant governor.

In 2004, Lincoln received 56 percent of the general election vote in Garland County for her Senate re-election campaign.

Late Monday night, Halter campaign workers placed large signs in every polling place in Garland County to alert voters of the changes.
The Halter campaign is also watching election procedures in at least 30 other Arkansas counties where polling locations have been reduced since the primary.
The Lincoln campaign has remained silent, thus far, on the imminent Election Day fiasco.

The forecast calls for 99-degree heat with a possible heat index of 105 on Tuesday. How long will voters, especially elderly ones, stand in such sultry conditions to cast a ballot?

It should come as no surprise if a lawsuit by one campaign, or both, is filed to keep the polls open past regular hours on Tuesday.

That, in turn, could open the floodgates for accusations — and litigation — of voter disenfranchising and a host of other irregularities, depending on how sore the loser of this 14-week contentious battle is at the end of the night.

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Written by suziparker1313

March 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm

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