The Faulkner County Election Commission on Tuesday approved establishing a county plan for 26 voting centers for the 2016 preferential primary election in an amended motion.
Public input was requested for Tuesday’s meeting after the commission previously agreed to research the feasibility of the centers and close other precinct polls, including those on local college campuses.
Nearly two dozen Hendrix College students and a few faculty members showed up to keep an Election Day polling site on campus.
"The library polling place is close but it’s a bit of a struggle for students who don’t have cars," said junior Peter Butler. "In the last two and a half years, we have managed to register over half the campus. We found most students voted at Hendrix on Election Day."
Jim Wiltgen, Hendrix Executive Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students also spoke to save the polling site.
"As an employee, I see the added [bonus] of 400 employees [at Hendrix] who have the opportunity to vote on Election Day. ... That center makes sense to me."
Commissioners dug their heels in during discussion, citing cost and lower turnout as a reason to discontinue the Hendrix and University of Central Arkansas locations as Election Day sites. They also tried sticking to the original motion to establish only 24 centers for Election Day, while establishing one-day early voting sites at both Hendrix, UCA and other locations.
"We have been considering these centers and have looked at the numbers," said Election Commission Chair Paul Foster. "The numbers say it should be an early voting site. It is better for the county to have UCA and Hendrix in early voting. If you do miss the early voting, you can get a friend or somebody and get a ride to a center."
To that, Hendrix students again brought up the convenience of being able to vote on campus and between class schedules that often prevent students, faculty and staff from traveling to voting centers.
Students also pointed out that campus polling locations are manned by members of the college community, therefore eliminating the burden of staffing on behalf of the county.
Hendrix senior Michelle Stockwell addressed the commission and reiterated that younger voters are engaged and politically savvy.
Taking away an Election Day polling location would only contribute to discouraging those voters.
After a 10-minute recess, commissioner Ronnie Hall amended his original motion to include the two colleges as Election Day voting centers and eliminate them as early voting sites.
The motion passed unanimously. The Hendrix delegation clapped and cheered in approval.
The commission also re-established five early voting poll sites used in the 2014 General Election and agreed to establish one-day early voting poll locations at local hospitals, large businesses and nursing homes.
In a previous interview with the Log Cabin Democrat, County Clerk Margaret Darter said registered voters could cast their ballots at any of the established voting centers on Election Day regardless of their address.
In support of voting centers, Darter explained that one of the main problems her office encounters on Election Day is voters who have moved and show up to vote at their previous polling location.
After their addresses are updated in the system, they often have to drive across town to their new polling location, which may deter some voters.