Voters don’t know—and don’t go.
Other states mail pamphlets to households of registered voters with information about voting, election dates, locations, candidates and issues. Not in Arkansas. Voters in this state are left to make voting decisions based on 30-second TV commercials, mailers, and opinions expressed by friends. Some voters may be lucky enough to get a knock on their door from a candidate or a campaign staffer.
To make matters worse, most down-ballot candidates can’t afford to get on TV or send mailings. Sometimes voters get to see candidates at a festival or parade. These occasions don’t allow for any real exchange of ideas. Some voters do go out of their way to find out about candidates, but way too many don’t. Without non-biased information, voters often don’t know whom to vote for and find it easier to just stay home on election days.
Take a look at the voter guide the California Secretary of State mailed to millions of households in advance of the 2018 General Election. This is a very impressive compilation of unbiased information that assists people to make informed decisions. The keyword is unbiased. Here is a link to all the guides California has produced in the past. There is no reason why the Arkansas Secretary of State cannot provide a guide like California’s.
There is one so-called voter guide that shows up across the state prior to elections. It’s called the “Arkansas Voter Guide” and is produced by the extremely conservative Arkansas Family Council. It is completely slanted toward the Council’s point of view. This questionnaire-type guide lists candidates by name and party and the candidate’s YES, NO, or OPPOSE responses to the Council’s biased questions. The questions are impossible to really answer with only those choices. This makes the guide absolutely meaningless. But sadly, because it’s the only game in town, this guide carries weight with many voters.
The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service does print a very impressive booklet each general election cycle that explains the initiatives on the ballot in a clear and concise manner; it gives the pros and cons and what each initiative will or won’t do. You can see it here. But how many of you have ever seen one? That’s the problem. Voters don’t know about it, and there is no effort to reach voters with it. Moreover, this publication doesn’t talk about candidates. The League of Women Voters also provides a pamphlet with candidate information to voters, but its reach is simply too small. Have you ever seen one? Recently, a growing organization across the state, Indivisible, has provided a “Score Card” for candidates based on a set of questions. However, this “Score Card” is not reaching voters, either.
If we want Arkansans to not only vote, but to be informed voters, we have to provide them with good information about what’s on the ballot. This will motivate more people to vote. As I pointed out in part one of this series, we need more people to vote.
As I also discussed in part one of this series, registering to vote is hard. In this part, I have shown that there is a lack of good information about whom or what to vote for or against. In the next part of this series, I’ll show you how the actual voting process works and how it, too, can be difficult to navigate. This keeps voters away.
I think all these obstacles to voting are done on purpose.
Stay tuned for Part Three.
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.