Early vote points to low turnout for today’s elections

Justices of the peace Jeremy Brown, R-District 12, and Larry Raney, R-District 13, leave the ballot draw at the Election Commission Building in December 2023. Both are opposed in today's Republican primary. (The Sentinel-Record/Lance Brownfield/File)
Justices of the peace Jeremy Brown, R-District 12, and Larry Raney, R-District 13, leave the ballot draw at the Election Commission Building in December 2023. Both are opposed in today's Republican primary. (The Sentinel-Record/Lance Brownfield/File)

The early vote for today's preferential primaries and nonpartisan general election foretold voter enthusiasm more consistent with a midterm nominating contest than Super Tuesday.

It's the third time the state has held its party primaries and judicial races on the day when candidates seeking nominations for U.S. president vie for the bulk of their parties' delegates. Polls for election day voting at Garland County's 16 vote centers open at 7:30 a.m.

Turnout through 11 days of early voting lagged the pace set in the March 2016 and 2020 elections. The Garland County Election Commission reported 5,760 ballots had been cast through Saturday. The number was closer to 7,000 by early Monday afternoon, the last day of 12 days of early voting that began Feb. 20.

According to the county's election software, voters 55 and older accounted for more than 80% of the turnout. The county has more than 60,000 registered voters.

The more than 10,000 ballots cast early in 2020 accounted for the majority of the 19,677 ballots cast in Garland County. The almost 9,000 cast early in 2016 were 41% of the 21,856 ballots cast that March.

The early vote was 53% of the 12,454 ballots cast in May 2018, a midterm year when state constitutional offices such as governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general were on party ballots. Early voting was 57% of the 14,204 ballots cast in May 2022.

Election Commission Chairman/County Election Coordinator Gene Haley cited anticlimactic races for the two parties' presidential nominations as a possible reason for lower turnout relative to the early vote leading up to the two previous Super Tuesdays. All but a few of the 15 presidential candidates on Republican and Democratic ballots were still campaigning when polls opened today.

According to the county's election software, more than 5,000 voters had requested ballots for the Republican primary as of early Monday afternoon. About 1,400 requested ballots for the Democratic primary. Haley said Republican ballots usually account for about three-fourths of the ballots issued in party primaries.

Most of the county's voters aren't registered as members of a political party, but about two dozen registered Democrats had voted in the Republican primary as of early Monday afternoon. No registered Republicans had crossed over to vote in the Democratic election.

The county had issued 148 nonpartisan only ballots by early Monday afternoon. Two state Supreme Court seats and Division 2 Garland County District Court judge are the only races on the nonpartisan ballot. Judicial races are on both partisan ballots.

Haley said the commission completed delivery of voting machines to nine voter centers that will be used today. The seven early voting locations will also be open, giving voters the choice of 16 locations to cast ballots before polls close at 7:30 p.m.

Haley said about 100 absentee ballots had been returned as of Monday. The processing of voter statements and copies of photo IDs voters enclosed in the outer envelope of their absentee mailings began last week. Haley said about 60 had been processed as of Monday. Some of the submissions appear to have voter verifications enclosed in the ballot only inner envelope. State law prohibits those from being opened until the morning of election day.

Ballots can be cast today at any of the following locations:

Election Commission Building -- 649A Ouachita Ave.

Webb Community Center -- 127 Pleasant St.

Crossgate Church -- 3100 E. Grand Ave.

Gardner School -- 525 Hammond Drive.

Creekside Community Church -- 1010 Shady Grove Road.

Garland County Library -- 1427 Malvern Ave.

Red Oak Baptist Church -- 2791 Hwy 290.

Uptown Hot Springs (Mall) -- 4501 Central Ave.

Lake Hills Free Will Baptist Church -- 2344 Airport Road

First Baptist Church Royal -- 7402 Albert Pike Road

Community Baptist Church -- 3518 Highway 7 north.

Mountain Pine City Hall -- 241 Main St.

Jessieville First Baptist Church -- 174 Beaudry Circle.

Fountain Lake Fire Department -- 7146 Park Ave.

Lonsdale City Hall -- 501 Cockrill St.

Roanoke Baptist Church -- 236 Whittington Ave.

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