I just got off the phone with a reporter from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We talked about problems that Arkansas has faced, and continues to face, this primary election season.
Problem 1: Late delivery of materials The company that received a 16 million dollar contract from the state, ES&S, missed almost two deadlines: providing printed absentee ballots and supplying DREs for early voting which were properly programmed.
I don’t know what is going on with ES&S. Perhaps Arkansas gave the company the candidate information too late in the game, perhaps something else happened. But it concerns me that this is the same company with which Multnomah County, OR had problems in its most recent primary election.
Problem 2: A quick run-off For historical reasons related to one-partism, many Southern states hold a run-off among the top two candidates in the primary (VO Key, Southern Politics in State and Nation, pg. 416-23) .
The problem is one that we’ve seen before and will undoubtedly see again: an interaction between a historically contingent institution (the primary runoff) and new changes to voting.
In Arkansas, this runoff takes place three weeks after the primary. And once you allow for in-person and no-excuse absentee balloting, this means new ballot machinery has to be prepared, and new ballots printed, within a week of the primary results. (See the timeline at the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office.
Add to the mix counting problems and delays similar to those we saw in Cook County, IL, and you have a recipe for election confusion and public distrust.
Problem 3: Inadequately trained poll workers The third problem that the reporter discussed with me was that many older poll workers were unfamiliar with the new ES&S machines. The result was long lines at some precincts (and this for a low turnout primary).
Arkansas is contemplating rules changes in order to accomodate the new realities of electronic balloting and early voting, including more extensive poll worker training and pushing back the time of the primary runoff.