Around 25 residents gathered at the Pine Bluff High School Little Theater Monday night to receive information about the Nov. 6 general election from election officials and politicians.
Sponsored by the Social Action Committee of the Pine Bluff Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Informed Voter Forum sought to educate attendees about the voting process as well as the five proposed Arkansas Constitutional amendments.
Jefferson County Election Commission Coordinator Will Fox and Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson served as panelists for the voting process discussion.
Johnson said that although showing a photo ID at the time of voting is not a legal requirement in Arkansas it is requested in order to streamline the voting process.
“It is understood that having a would-be voter produce photo identification is a request and not a law,” forum moderator Kymara Seals said. “Voters in the state of Arkansas don’t have to have a photo ID.”
Johnson said she estimated that 98 percent of people have no trouble showing a photo ID.
“If they don’t have a photo ID, then we have to ask them a series of questions that allow the poll worker to verify that the person seeking to vote is the person he or she says they are,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that if a person refuses the questioning as well then they will be given a provisional paper ballot to fill out, which will be collected by the poll worker and then delivered to the Election Commission at the end of the day where officials will seek to determine if the voter completed the voter registration process or not.
“You will absolutely be able to vote,” Johnson said. “It’s another matter as to whether it will be counted or not.”
Fox said that if the voter rolls used by poll workers at each polling site to verify voters include a check in a particular box by a voter’s name that person will be required to produce a photo ID.
“That person is required to show a photo ID card in order to complete the registration process,” Fox said.
Johnson fielded a question from an audience member pertaining to whether a formerly incarcerated person can vote.
“Once probation has been served and all fees have been paid they can register to vote,” Johnson said. “We have had quite a few do that this year.”
Fox said that Jefferson County has 39 polling sites and 201 precincts.
“The Election Commission takes what legislation has been put into place as election law and put it into policy,” Fox said. “We have the most safe and secure system that allows the most people to vote,” Fox said. “There are 41,000 registered voters in Jefferson County and we provide them with 15 days of early voting. If someone is infirm and can’t get out we can mail them an absentee ballot and they can fill it out at home and mail it back.”
Fox said that the electronic voting machines used by the Election Commission have a number of fail safe features to ensure the security of the voting process.
State Sen. Stephanie Flowers and State Rep. James Word provided information about the five proposed amendments that will be on the ballot.
“Two of the five ballot issues have been determined by the Arkansas Supreme Court to be unconstitutional and will not be counted,” Flowers said of two measures that would allow casinos to be built in the state. “The other three include two tax increases. Issue 1 will provide for the issue of $1.3 billion in bonds over 10 years to fund highway projects at the state and the local levels.”
Flowers said that 70 percent will go to the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department and 30 percent to cities and counties.
Issue 2, if passed, will allow for the municipal and county financing of sales tax anticipated revenue bond projects as well as unfunded liabilities of closed local police and fire pension plans and personal property.
“It gives municipalities a new way to raise revenue,” Word said.
Issue 5 would allow for the strict dispensing of medical marijuana to patients suffering from one of a specific set of ailments.
“Arkansas is one of the first southern states to have this on the ballot,” Word said. “A lot of organizations are fighting hard to keep this from passing. Even if it is passed, the federal government can still come in and prosecute. There will be strict limits in place on dispensing it if the measure passes. A patient will be able to have up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana without being prosecuted by the state.”