Election Commission Denies Campus Voting Site

Election Commission Denies Campus Voting Site
Nick BrothersThe Free Weekly Managing Editor

Nick Brothers
The Free Weekly Managing Editor

Last week, the Washington County Election Commission refused a request to place an early voting polling site at the University of Arkansas campus.

The vote to deny came from the two Republican members, Bill Ackerman and Renee Oelschlaeger. The Democratic member, Max Deitchler, voted for the voting center. Students were given only five minutes to speak of their support for the polling center, and the commission said they wouldn’t consider petitions circulated in support. Witness reports say members of the commission seemed to have already made their mind up beforehand.

The commission claimed “performance metrics” didn’t justify adding a polling station to campus.

This is some real bullshit.

About 31,000 students, faculty and staff walk through campus each day. If it were a city in Arkansas, it’d be our 12th largest. Could you imagine if the commission denied this to a real city? If we all truly want democracy to work, we need to have polling places where people are. Sure, student voter turnout isn’t impressive at only 38 percent turnout in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but wouldn’t it be a step in the right direction for increasing engagement by putting a polling station right in front of their faces? I mean, that’s the election commission’s job to help citizens vote, right?

There’s polling stations around town for voters to vote — mostly at churches — but what about students on campus without cars, or friends with cars? Should we just hope that some student group organizes van rides to polling stations and the students find out about it and are able to show up?

Everybody lives busy, inconvenient lives. Other than not caring about politics and refusing to register, it’s possible a lot of people either don’t know where to vote or don’t take or have the time to vote. Add that in with voter ID laws that complicate the situation and appear to suppress the working poor who can’t afford forms of ID in the first place, and you get consistently low voter turnout.

In order for democracy to thrive, it needs to breathe, and for it to breathe voting sites need to be reasonably accessible for all voters. For the most part, this isn’t an issue — but I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and if it is, that’s a problem.

This decision falls in line with the Republican strategy of suppressing any votes that could be perceived as Democrat, which university populations typically are.

This vote echoes a recent, despicable “error” that happened a few weeks ago where thousands of Arkansas voters had their voting rights stripped. Secretary of State Mark Martin sent out an erroneous list of names of felons to every county in Arkansas, 4,000 of which had never been convicted and many who had since been reinstated, according to reports by The Arkansas Democrat Gazette in July. Martin then passed the buck to county clerk officials to fix the mistakes, and it’s up to the unlucky voters to find out and prove they’re eligible again.

In the election commission decision’s aftermath, Rep. Greg Leding, a Fayetteville Democrat, on Twitter wrote “Easier to bash young people than to admit the decision was a cold (and likely incorrect) political calculation.”

No word about it from Rep. Charlie Collins, a Fayetteville Republican.

I’d like to see a unified front for once in providing measures for making it as easy as possible to register to vote, get informed, and have access to vote. But I’m just a doe-eyed idiot, I suppose.

Thanks for reading.

Categories: Commentary