LONOKE, Ark. – Problems at polling places on primary night in Lonoke County have many voters pushing for more training across the state.
The Democratic Party of Arkansas has filed several complaints over issues there, with at least one more on its way from a former state lawmaker.
The party first filed a lawsuit on election day, demanding all Lonoke County polling places remain open until 10 p.m., which was two and a half hours after they were supposed to close.
Chief of Staff Taylor Riddle said Democrats could not vote for the first three hours of regular voting at the England Rec Center because machines were not set up and they had only Republican and non-partisan paper ballots.
The Arkansas Supreme Court ultimately denied the party’s request so it filed a complaint with the State Board of Election Commissioners.
Democrats submitted two other complaints Wednesday. One claims voters were turned away because their driver’s licenses would not scan, while the second says inmates were transporting voting machines that had not been turned off and whose votes had not been counted.
These specific complaints did not come up during Wednesday night’s Lonoke County Election Commission meeting, but other issues did.
“It was almost like the blind leading the blind up here,” said Hon. Stubby Stumbaugh, the election commission’s chairman, during the meeting. “I am embarrassed by this process, not only this process but those people that are supposed to oversee this process.”
Chairman Stumbaugh replayed what happened May 22: machines damaged, others unable to be shut down and flash drives not inserted correctly, which caused the county to report dead last in the state.
“It’s my understanding that ever since we started these machines, it’s been a fiasco and it’s been chaos,” he said. “But on the 22nd day of May, we had controlled chaos in here.”
However, the issues highlight a problem that extends beyond county lines. Voters at the meeting and those who had problems at the polls are calling for more education.
“The training, and I’m assuming this is throughout Arkansas, is just a nightmare,” said Camille Bennett, a former state representative.
Secretary of State Spokesperson Chris Powell said the office trains county election commissioners. Poll worker training falls under the state election commission and the counties, but voters think the state’s highest election office needs to intervene.
St. Rep. Michael John Gray, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said in a statement:
“County election commissioners and poll workers are being hung out to dry. County election commissioners and poll workers give up a tremendous amount of time to serve their counties, and the state has a responsibility to give these individuals the tools they need to do their job. If the poll workers who turned these voters away would have been properly assisted by the state, these issues wouldn’t have happened. We hope the state Board of Election Commissioners work quickly to address these matters so that all voters can cast their ballots in November.”
“As we’ve gone to electronic voting, as people have gotten older, as all of the laws keep changing, a lot of our reliable poll workers have just said we don’t want to do it any more,” Bennett said.
To make sure voters do not say the same thing in November, Lonoke County hopes to turn the polls from chaos to calm come the general election.
“I feel very certain it was done in a fair manner, and it was done with the best of our ability with what we had to work with,” Stumbaugh said at the end of the meeting.
Bennett said she did not get to vote in her state senator’s race because it was not on her Lonoke County ballot. She plans to submit a complaint soon to the state election commission.
In the meantime, the Lonoke County Election Commission is looking into creating permanent voting centers instead of temporary polling locations.
“Those voting centers would be an opportunity for everybody registered in this county to vote,” said Stumbaugh.
Bennett argues fingerprint voting would be a less expensive, more accessible option for voters.