Arkansas political parties prepare in case of voting issues at the polls

The Arkansas Democrats have set up a voter hotline and will use a national database to report problems in real time at the polls.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The start of early voting in Arkansas will see hundreds of volunteers working throughout the election season watching poll locations and manning a hotline for voters to report problems.

“We have recruited over 150 poll watchers already and we plan to double that number by election day,” said Hannah Burdette, the voter project organizer for the Democratic Party of Arkansas at a Friday news conference announcing the hotline and poll watcher training.

“If any voter sees an issue, contact us,” said Annie Depper, the party’s legal counsel. “We are here to support you. We are here to make sure your vote counts.”

The hotline is open to all voters to report instances of intimidation, Voter ID mistakes/disputes, or understaffed locations. They offer local party leaders a way to channel the energy Democrats say they are seeing in other states that have already begun early voting.

Complaints to the hotline could just as easily be reported to law enforcement or county election officials, but the party says this offers a less confrontational approach, especially in smaller neighborhood precincts.

“A lot of people will be reluctant to point out mistakes to their friends or to people they know,” said party chair Michael John Gray. 

“We’re giving them an alternative here to reach out and say ‘hey, I don’t think my ballot is right. They’re telling me this. I’m not trying to cause trouble.'”

President Trump has been leading the calls for voters to be on the lookout for fraud or irregularities. He’s made repeated urgings at rallies and during the first debate with Democratic challenger former Vice President Joe Biden.

Locally, the GOP isn’t planning extensive training operations, but is recruiting volunteers and will be looking for less obvious problems.

“There are issues that we’ve seen in the past that I don’t think get articulated in the correct way,” said Kristi Stahr, a Republican Pulaski County election commissioner.

“When you have folks registering or they’re doing an absentee and it’s in a parking lot, you kind of want to notice those things, and that’s some of the stuff you want to look out for,” she said.

Stahr said most of those issues crop up in local elections, pointing to a recent wet-dry decision in Craighead County that saw dozens of new voter registrations above the small town’s population. 

She said many of the new voters used abandoned recreational vehicles as addresses.

While Republicans count on watchful volunteers to counter those hyper-local mistakes, Democrats will rely on a national database.

“The system that we have set up this year through the DNC is something called LBJ,” Depper said of the system named after the former president but stands for Lawyers Bound for Justice. 

“It allows poll watchers to enter in the moment on their phone what’s going on. People are excited about this.”

The Democratic Party’s voter protection hotline is 501-299-5589. 

Party organizations or issue campaigns will have information about how many poll watchers they need. 

County clerks and election commissions will also have information on how to volunteer.