Arkansas Lawmakers Reject Bill to Shorten Early Voting

The General Assembly has entered an extended recess, but will return to address redistricting.

Rep. Jamie Scott
Rep. Jamie Scott speaks against SB 485 on the House floor Apr. 27, 2021.

Senate Bill 485 failed in the Arkansas House yesterday by a vote of 39-43. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kim Hammer (R-Benton) would have eliminated early voting on the Monday prior to Election Day. 

SB 485 failed in a House committee Monday morning before returning to the same committee that afternoon. This time the legislation was approved and sent to the House floor where three lawmakers spoke in favor of the bill and four spoke against it Tuesday. 

Legislators who supported the bill argued it would give poll workers a break before Election Day. Rep. Carlton Wing (R-North Little Rock) said this is purely a staffing issue. While Arkansas offers two weeks of early voting, Wing said that one day is crucial because of preparation that occurs the Monday prior to Election Day such as moving polling machines from early vote locations to voting precincts.

“The average age of the poll worker is 65 and we have heard from many who have reported that they can no longer keep up with the schedule of potentially a 20 hour day and turning it around on Election Day for the biggest day of the year,” Wing said.

Lawmakers opposed to the bill argued Monday is one of the busiest days for early voting in the state and SB485 addresses a problem that doesn’t exist. Rep. Jamie Scott (D-North Little Rock) called the bill a roadblock that will impact Arkansans on both sides of the aisle. 

“Please don’t silence the voices of our communities and people that look like me,” Scott said. “I represent a minority-majority district. This is one of the busiest days in my district and I can’t stay silent about what it’s going to do in my community.”

The House ultimately failed the bill. The Arkansas Legislature concluded its work for the session, for now, during a midnight session Wednesday morning. Lawmakers have entered a recess, but will be called back later in the year to address issues like Congressional redistricting.

Once a decade legislators redraw election districts based on updated census data. Monday the U.S. Census Bureau delivered to President Joe Biden the population counts that will be used for apportioning the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The population of Arkansas has grown to 3,013,756, according to the recently released data, and the state will keep its four seats in the House. Arkansas is one 37 states that will not gain or lose seats in the House.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.