A recent article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette announced that the Governor is releasing $8.24 million to the Secretary of State’s office to help Arkansas counties purchase upgraded voting machines. This makes the total spent on new voting equipment a whopping $15 million.
Never has so much been spent for so little return. The voting numbers in Arkansas are abysmal: In 2018, out of a voting-age population of 2,250,350, there were 1,784,015 registered to vote, out of which only 891,509 voted. That’s 50.38% of registered voters, as reported on the Secretary of State’s website. New voting equipment will do nothing to improve the percentage of Arkansans voting and, in fact, will make it more difficult for many Arkansans to vote. That is because, in exchange for the new equipment, counties will be forced to reduce their polling locations. Why? Because the SOS funds must be matched by the counties, and counties will opt to have fewer voting locations (Vote Centers), requiring fewer voting machines, in turn requiring less matching money.
Vote Centers may be an attractive idea because they allow any voter in the county to come to a Vote Center of their choice to cast their ballot. But, because the counties will close more remote polling locations, many voters will have to travel greater distances to vote. And the elderly and disabled are often deterred from voting by the difficulty in getting places — a problem which will only be exacerbated by Vote Centers. Also, voting machines quickly become technologically obsolete, break down and need replacement. They require costly storage, maintenance, and programming.
We should look for other ways to improve voting access and encourage more people to vote. We don’t have to reinvent to the wheel to do this. Several states already have in place innovative and simple means of improving voting rates which have already proved successful.
One way is to allow voting by mail. We vote by mail in Arkansas already, it’s called “absentee voting”. Members of the armed services vote absentee while deployed across the globe. It’s how voters who are ill, otherwise homebound, or in nursing homes are able to vote. It’s how registered voters may vote if they will be unable to do so at their assigned poll on Election Day. Voting by mail, or “Vote At Home” as it is also called, is used exclusively in Washington State, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado; California is moving to all-mail balloting by 2022. Numerous other states use voting by mail as an option, and the trend is growing.
Plus, voting by mail saves money, lots of it. This is money that could be spent on other services for our state. It also allows the elderly and disabled to vote.
Arkansas lags behind every other state except Mississippi in moving to new ways to increase voter turnout, such as automatic voter registration, online voter registration, same-day voter registration, and expanded voting by mail. Other states provide information about voting methods, candidates, and issues. It’s time to move Arkansas forward. We can’t make the right to vote only available to people with a car and who can leave their homes without difficulty. That’s pure voter suppression. We must make voting accessible to every eligible voter. Now.
Susan Inman was Director of Elections for a former Arkansas Secretary of State, former member of the Arkansas State Board of Election Commissioners, founder and first president of the Arkansas County Election Commissions Association. She has volunteered with the US Department of State as an international election observer, observing over a dozen elections in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.