Early voter turnout wasn’t anything to write home about two springs ago, and it’s proving even more lackluster this year as advanced voting winds down.
"It’s low," Faulkner County Clerk Melinda Reynolds acknowledged.
The apparent apathy is not altogether perplexing because, while this preferential primary election isn’t void of some profile races locally, there were some intriguing political offerings in 2010. Primary tussles that helped attract early voters included the bid by state Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway to wrestle the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate from Congressman John Boozman.
A couple of other 2010 primary races that helped draw early voters locally were Democratic contests: House Speaker Robbie Wills of Conway sought his party’s nomination for U.S. representative and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter challenged U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who was later voted from office.
All four county races in the 2010 primary — one for justice of the peace and three for constable — were Democratic contests. Early voters also weighed in one three nonpartisan judicial races.
Through Thursday, the 10th day of the early voting period, 3,156 residents cast ballots, according to figures from the county clerk’s office. The total represents a mere 5 percent of the county’s 62,000 registered voters.
Early voter turnout finished at 7 percent in the 2010 primary with 4,312 ballots cast. On average, an additional 69 people per day will have to vote between Friday and Monday to make this year’s turnout rival that of two years ago. So far, turnout is averaging 316 voters per day — with five early polling locations in the county, no less.
An even larger challenge, it appears, will be Faulkner County’s ability to at least equal the overall turnout of 22 percent in the 2010 primary. Secretary of State Mark Martin predicted 30 percent turnout statewide for this year’s primary election, but that obviously looks like a daunting achievement locally based on the early voting pace. A 30 percent turnout overall in Faulkner County equates to about 18,600 voters — or 5,000 more voters than in the 2010 primary.
Republican and nonpartisan judicial races are hogging the action this primary season. The five GOP contests include two county and three legislative races. Four nonpartisan judicial races will be decided this spring since those candidates only do battle in November if a runoff is required. Each of the local nonpartisan races features just two candidates.
The lone Democratic race in the primary is a Benedict Township constable contest between Dalton Elliott of Conway and Hubert Goodnight of Mayflower.
It seems like a safe bet to wager that the primary race inspiring a majority of early voters is the four-man battle for the GOP nomination for Faulkner County sheriff. Tim Ryals, Andy Shock, H. Allen Smith and Max Young, all of Conway, are trying to earn a general election date with Democrat Tommy Earnhart of Conway. All five candidates have law enforcement experience.
It’s likely that the GOP race for sheriff will proceed to a runoff; even casual observers are not willing to predict that one of the four candidates will receive 51 percent of the votes in next Tuesday’s primary election. The runoff election date for major party primary candidates is Tuesday, June 12, and early voting would begin Tuesday, June 5.
Arguably the GOP legislative race generating the most interest locally is Arkansas House District 70 contest between Rep. David Meeks and challenger Price Dooley, both of Conway. Phil Grace and Josh Miller, both of Heber Springs, are competing for the GOP nomination in Arkansas House District 66. Vying for the GOP nomination in state Senate District 15 are state Reps. Ed Garner of Maumelle and David J. Sanders of Little Rock.
The other primary race for Republicans is a California Township constable contest between Randy O. Bowling and Nathan Kelley, both of Greenbrier.
Also helping drive primary turnout locally are judicial races featuring five candidates from Conway, including four who are vying for a pair of District Court judgeships in District 9. Mike Murphy and David L. Reynolds are seeking the Position 1 bench, while Amy Brazil and Susan Weaver are competing for the Position 2 seat.
Rhonda Wood of Conway is opposed by Mitch Cash of Pindall in the race for a Court of Appeals associate judgeship in District 2.
Early voting ends Friday at four of the county’s five polling locations. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Faulkner County Library, 1900 Tyler St. in Conway; Greenbrier City Events Center, 5 Louise Lane; Vilonia First Baptist Church, 1206 Main St.; and Mayflower City Hall, 2 Ashmore Drive.
Early voting continues Saturday and Monday at the courthouse in Conway. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. both days.
Polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on election day. The county has 48 precincts.