EL DORADO — Early voting got under way Monday for the Nov. 8 General Election, and Union County residents are turning out in record numbers, according to the Union County Clerk’s office.
By the end of the day on Wednesday, the three-day total had reached 2,215, capping off record highs that were recorded each day.
County Clerk Shannon Phillips said 701 people cast their ballots on Monday, the most ever to turn out on the first day of early voting in Union County.
The number shot even higher the following day with 787 votes cast, setting the all-time county record of early votes in a single day.
“It’s been extremely busy. The lines are reasonable. Sometimes there’s a wait, but it’s not terrible,” Phillips said Wednesday afternoon as a steady stream of voters filed into her office.
With early-voting traffic counts trending on the high end, Phillips said her office and the Union County Election Commission made the decision to utilize all six voting machines in the clerk’s office to accommodate the heavy flow.
She explained that five machines are typically used for the early-voting period, with the sixth reserved as a backup that is pulled out toward the end of the period.
Phillips said all six machines are now online to help keep the voting lines moving at a comfortable pace.
Early voting hours are from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and so far, Phillips said eager voters have been waiting outside her office each morning when she and her staff have arrived for work.
She said there has been a slight lull between 5 and 6 p.m., but the rest of the day has remained busy.
Reports of high voter turnout have been coming in from across the state, Phillips said, noting that clerks in Ouachita and Columbia counties have each clocked record numbers.
While droves of people have been coming in to vote early, there have been few problems, Phillips said.
She said her staff has acted quickly to address a couple of issues that have cropped up this week.
One person “pushed a button they weren’t supped to,” and the voting machine shut off, Phillips said. Another complained that a button did not work.
“We have human error sometimes, and the machines are older, but they’re working well. You might have to push harder than you did before when we first got them,” Phillips said.
She encouraged citizens to immediately notify election workers if a problem occurs with a voting machine, noting that signs with that information are posted in the clerk’s office.
Phillips said her office has also encountered problems with state voter registration records pertaining to convicted felons.
Information from Secretary of State Mark Martin’s computer system has identified 101 people in Union County as ineligible to vote because of their felony status.
However, Phillips said files in the county clerk’s office and the local office of the Arkansas Department of Community Correction show that only two of the people on the secretary of state’s list are not eligible to vote in this election.
The other 99 have had their voting rights restored, and many have been voting for years, she said.
“These people have already satisfied the conditions, and they meet all of the requirements to be able to vote. One lady, hers (felony conviction) was 32 years old, and she has been voting,” Phillips said.
According to information from the ACLU Arkansas, citizens who have a criminal history that has affected their right to vote can restore that right by taking to their local county clerk’s office proof of their prison discharge and payment of any parole fees, court costs, or restitution.
“It hasn’t been a huge problem here. We’ve gotten a lot of cooperation from the parole and probation office. They’ve really been helping us out,” Phillips said. “There have been other groups helping people to understand their voting rights. They need to know that not being able to vote is not a lifetime condition.”
She urged citizens whose voting rights have been affected by a felony conviction to vote early.
“If something comes up, we can take care of it then. That’s going to be harder to do on Election Day,” Phillips said.
Phillips said she doesn’t know if the hectic early-voting pace will continue throughout the remainder of the period, which ends on Nov. 7.
She said there is usually a rush the day before Election Day.
The county’s voting machines can hold 7,200 votes. Phillips said Presidential elections normally drawn close to 7,000 voters in Union County.
If voters surpass the 7,200 maximum that is allowed on the county’s voting machines, Phillips said a representative from Harp Enterprises, the Kentucky-based provider of the machines, will have to come to El Dorado and reprogram the machines.
She reminded citizens that voter guides are available in her office to help people better understand the issues that appear on the 2016 ballot.
“Some people are not prepared for the issues,” Phillips said.
“We have these books that we can pass out that explain what the issues are, what a vote for means and what vote against means,” she continued.
The popular names of the seven issues are:
• Proposing an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution concerning the terms, election and eligibility of elected officials.
• A Constitutional Amendment to allow the governor to retain his or her powers and duties when absent from the state.
• An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development.
• An amendment to limit attorney contingency fees and non-economic damages in medical lawsuits.
• An amendment to allow three casinos to operate in Arkansas, one each in … Boone County, Miller County and Washington County.
• The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016.
• The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act.
“We’ve never seen a turnout like this before, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Elections give people a voice, and they can voice their opinions about what’s going on in their community,” Phillips said.
Early voting will also be held from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on two Saturdays, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or by email at tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.