Early voting slow but steady, say election officials in Benton and Washington counties

Numbers similar to past primary elections

Kim Clifton (right) of Washington County places his ballot Wednesday into a machine as poll worker Karen Lockhart of Hogeye assists after Clifton voted at the West Fork Community Center. Early voting continues this week ahead of the March 5 primary and judicial election. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery.

(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
Kim Clifton (right) of Washington County places his ballot Wednesday into a machine as poll worker Karen Lockhart of Hogeye assists after Clifton voted at the West Fork Community Center. Early voting continues this week ahead of the March 5 primary and judicial election. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

BENTONVILLE -- Election officials in Northwest Arkansas say the first week of early voting for the March 5 primary election was quiet and uneventful.

"Slow. It has been very, very slow," Kim Dennison, election coordinator for the Benton County Election Commission, said Friday. "I feel like today has been a little busier, but it's still slow. We've had about 975 people vote in my office all week, and that's the busiest site we've got."

Early voting for the primary election began Feb. 20 and ends March 4 in some locations.

In Bella Vista, early voting continues through Friday, March 1 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at two locations:

Bela Vista Community Church, 75 E. Lancashire Drive

Bella Vista Recreation Center, 3 Riordan Drive

Tuesday, Feb. 20 saw 923 votes cast, while 863 voters turned out on Wednesday and 855 on Thursday, according to information from the Benton County Clerk's Office. On Friday, the office reported 924 votes cast.

Dennison said there are about 180,000 registered voters in Benton County. The average turnout for a primary election runs around 30% while general elections held in November usually see turnout in the 60% to 70% range or higher, she said.

"What I'm hearing a lot when I talk to people outside the office is that they don't even know what we're voting on," Dennison said. "Sometimes they don't even know what a primary election is or that it's happening now."

In Arkansas, party primary elections are held in March during presidential election years and in May in nonpresidential election years. Dennison said the shifting of the timing of the primary elections can be confusing to some people.

"I wish they would just be consistent," she said.

In Washington County, the first days of early voting in the primary drew 616 voters on Tuesday, 755 Wednesday and 640 Thursday. As of 5 p.m. Friday, 749 votes had been cast that day. There are about 138,000 registered voters in Washington County.

Jenifer Price, executive director for the Washington County Election Commission, said the turnout is comparable to past primary elections that saw about 30% of the county's voters participate.

A lack of enthusiasm about the election extends beyond Northwest Arkansas to much of the state, according to Joyce Elliott, executive director of GetLoud Arkansas!, a nonprofit group that works to register voters and educate them on the issues.

"What I am hearing anecdotally and through direct conversations is that people are not excited, but they are concerned enough to want to vote," Elliott said. "I think some people are holding off because there's so much to learn, so many judge's races especially, people are taking some time to learn about what's on the ballot."

She thinks more people will vote this week, she said.

Sandra White of Fayetteville cast her ballot Thursday at the county courthouse. White said she always votes during the early voting period. The judicial races, especially for the state Supreme Court, were the most interesting contests on the ballot for her, she said.

Luvenia Banister of Fayetteville said she has been taking advantage of early voting for the past 25 years, saying it is simple and allows her to avoid the long lines and crowds that can be seen on Election Day.

Banister said she is concerned that some people seem uninterested or uninformed and aren't voting.

"I feel like it's the least I can do," she said. "It's very important. It's how we make ourselves heard. The races for the Supreme Court are very important to the state."

Christine Smith of Fayetteville also voted early on Thursday, saying she does so "because I'm impatient," so she prefers to vote at a time that suits her schedule.

Smith said she's concerned about the lack of interest in the election and said she attributes that to the perception that the presidential contests in both parties are all but settled.

"I think the problem is at the top of the ticket," Smith said.

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