Arkansas polling locations prepare for most unique Election Day yet

Workers in Garland Co. laid out stylus pens, caution tape, boxes of face masks along with all the other trappings of voting in person in 2020.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — With early voting setting records in Arkansas and across the country, crews in Garland County and elsewhere went through the process of setting up polling locations for what figures to be a unique Election Day.

“I have no idea [what to expect],” said Garland Co. Election Commission Chair Gene Haley. “Based on the early voting totals I think it will be very low, but everything about this year surprises me.”

Hayley supervised a three-person crew as they laid down yellow tape, booted up computer tablets, and roped off voting machines with caution tape at Piney Grove Methodist Church and Crosscreek Community Church Monday. 

With churches often serving as polling locations, they typically have to be set up on the day between Sunday worship and the big day on Tuesday.

Even with 54 percent of the county’s registered voters already marking ballots either through early voting or via absentee ballot, Haley knows he can’t afford to let up yet.

As should be familiar to all those who have already voted this year, the polling place will see spaced-out lines, poll workers will be behind plastic screens and hand sanitizer will be everywhere.

To veteran county workers, a lot has changed for the better.

“It’s just so much easier now than it used to be and frankly a whole lot more secure I think,” said Keith Williams, led the set-up crew through their four stops, a significant reduction after the pandemic closed many previous polling locations.

“We gather all that equipment up, load it on to the truck, bring it here and then set up,” he said.

While Haley enjoys what might be considered an “easy” day, he is preparing to oversee a dedicated crew of 10 who will open absentee ballots and feed them into four tabulators. 

Some 5,000 had arrived by Friday and Haley expects it to take all day to count them, but that seems reasonable compared to cities elsewhere in the country with boxes and stacks of ballots by the millions.

“I don’t see a problem here,” he said. “I don’t think we have the type of problems in some of the larger cities.”

And all the tension of helping to make an election run smoothly can also take a toll on the workers, but Williams at least will try to harness some energy from this very wild year.

“I keep saying every year that I’m never gonna do this again and [then] I look forward to doing it,” he said. “It’s something I feel very strongly about and something I’m glad to be part of.”