How easy is it to vote in Arkansas? If you look at a recent report by Common Cause, you might think it’s pretty hard. After all, Common Cause gave Arkansas mixed grades on registration and accessibility. But upon closer examination, Common Cause is apparently using a yardstick that has little or nothing to do with a better voting experience.
One of this group’s problems with the Arkansas voting system is that the state should “expand opportunities to vote before Election Day.” Perhaps I’m a purist, but to me the word “day” in the phrase “Election Day” is singular. Common Cause, however, doesn’t share this view; they criticize Arkansas for an insufficiently liberal policy on absentee voting. In fact, they come out fairly strongly in favor of early voting, claiming that “affording voters only one day in which they may cast their ballot is an unnecessary restriction to our civil rights.”
It’s difficult to see how having the polls open all day on Election Day, coupled with two weeks of early voting in Arkansas, is restricting anyone’s civil rights. If it were, then you’d expect states without early voting to see lower voter turnout. But the evidence indicates that early voting does not, in fact, increase turnout, as this academic article explains:
This new study confirms much of the existing literature regarding the modest impact of early voting reforms on turnout. We remain skeptical of those who advocate in favor of early voting reforms primarily on the basis of increased turnout, conclude the authors. Both these results and prior work in political science simply do not support these claims. There may be good reasons to adopt early voting, but boosting turnout is not one of them.
Another area in which Arkansas gets dinged by Common Cause is in not having online voter registration. However, Arkansas lets people register to vote in a variety of ways. Just because these avenues involve filling out some basic information on paper does not mean it’s difficult to register to vote. I’ve seen no evidence that online voter registration leads to any meaningful increase in voting activity.
Likewise, their recommendation that voting should take place only in schools seems arbitrary. Why is a school better than a community hall, church, or fire station? Many rural areas have no school nearby, so why does Common Cause think the state of Arkansas should deprive these areas of a polling place? That makes no sense to me.
Looking at the Common Cause recommendations, it seems to me that they are making a big deal out of very minor issues. Can some things be done to make voting easier in Arkansas? Sure. But would the “reforms” proposed by Common Cause (some of which are very costly) significantly increase turnout? That’s highly unlikely. The fact is: it’s not very difficult to register and vote in Arkansas. Releasing a report claiming that Arkansas makes it hard to vote is irresponsible and misleading.