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  • Writer's pictureLauren Hooker

A Message From Our President: How to Protect the Integrity of the Election Process

Every election we hear about how we all have a responsibility to vote. That is a sentiment I agree with, but I would take it a step further: we also have a responsibility to protect our election process.

With COVID-19 concerns, many voters are, for the first time, exploring options other than voting on Election Day. In Arkansas, the other options are early voting or casting an absentee ballot.

Early voting has been accepted as a norm, and the amount of people choosing to cast an early vote grows every cycle. The last General Election, in 2018, saw over 49.5% of voters cast an early vote while just a little over 45% cast a vote on Election Day. In the 2008 election cycle, over 57% chose to vote on Election Day while under 40% voted early. Clearly voters have become more aware and more trusting of Early Voting.

Absentee Voting on the other hand has rarely topped 5% of the total vote cast. Historically, the privilege of Absentee Voting was limited to those voters who would be unavoidably absent from their polling location on election day, unable to attend their polling location due to illness or disability, those in the military on active duty that kept them from their polling location, or voters who were temporarily living outside the United States.

This election cycle, both Governor Hutchinson and Secretary of State Thurston have said that anyone concerned for their health due to COVID qualifies for voting absentee. There has been an uptick in absentee request across the state, but many people are still nervous about casting an absentee ballot, and rightfully so. There are numerous stories of campaigns abusing absentee and vote by mail programs across the country. Unfortunately, this fraud has been committed by people on both sides of the political spectrum and has caused many voters to question the security of their ballots.

But this bad behavior shouldn’t discourage us from participating in our elections. Rather, it should encourage all of us to get involved in ways that protect the integrity of our election process.

Election Day voting requires a lot of work and many counties struggle with finding workers who can help manage polling locations. Trained workers ensure elections run smoothly and remain fair. This is an area where average citizens can positively impact their community. Being a poll worker requires a small amount of training, and as a bonus, you could get paid for your efforts.

Another way to help with Election Day voting is to let your voice be heard during discussions on polling locations. We often see polling locations closed due to lack of workers or advancements in technology that allow more people to vote at one location as quickly or quicker than having 2 or 3 locations. This cycle, there will be talks of limiting Election Day polling centers due to COVID.

Unfortunately, the closing of these locations can become political at times when considering keeping a location open or not based on that location's tendency to lean towards one political party or the other. Basing a decision upon that is uncalled for. You can help stop that by calling your elected county officials and your local county election commission and asking them to not let this happen. Just knowing that citizens are watching is typically enough to keep issues like this from happening.

The same two issues apply to Early Voting. All counties are required to open at least one Early Voting location within the Courthouse. Some counties choose to open more than that. No matter how many locations are in your county, the need for poll workers is something many citizens can help alleviate.

Absentee Voting requires multiple steps in Arkansas. First, you must request a ballot from your Clerk’s office. Once that request is received, the Clerk’s office will mail you a ballot. Once you fill the ballot out, you pay the postage to return it to the Clerk.

During this process, there are multiple verifications to ensure the person requesting and returning the ballot are in fact the actual voter. Ensuring your County Clerk’s office and Election Commission follows that procedure is where being a “watchdog citizen” is important.

As a citizen, you have a right to demand every request form and ballot is verified as the accurate voter. You have a right to ensure ballots only go out to those that request one. And you have a right to ask the County Clerk to not allow political activists to participate in the absentee ballot process in that office.

If someone in the Clerk’s office is engaged heavily with a political party or a campaign, that same person should not oversee the opening of ballots. That’s just common-sense. Every person has a right to support who they want and to express that support. But when someone becomes engaged in a campaign, creating the potential for fraud is not a good idea. Even if no fraud will be committed, why allow a situation to look bad? By calling your Clerk and Election Commission, we can keep this sort of thing from happening.

It’s important we ensure every registered voter who wants to vote has the ability to do so. So is ensuring elections are fair. We can all do our part to make sure that happens.

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