Leader Blues

Saturday, November 01, 2008

TOP STORY > > Turnout at torrid pace

Leader staff writer

By Thursday night Pulaski County had already set a record for early voters with more than 52,000 votes in, breaking the previous record by about 500 votes—and early voting continues through Monday.

“By the time early voting ends we expect 40 to 45 percent of the county voters to have voted,” said Pulaski County Clerk Pat O’Brien.

In the 2004 General Election early voting period, 51,621 ballots were cast, according to the Pulaski County Election Commission. “We could hit 70,000 this year,” O’Brien said.

As of 6 p.m. Friday, 62,955 voters had cast early ballots and the county had also received 5,009 absentee ballots for a total of 67,964 votes.

At the Jack Evans Senior Center in Sherwood, 5,396 votes were cast through Thursday and with Friday’s unofficial numbers, the total is close to 6,000.

At city hall in Jacksonville, 4,296 votes had been cast through Thursday evening, and Friday’s unofficial totals push that past 4,700.

“Voting is taking one to two hours at most of the polling places,” O’Brien said, and even though lines have been long, the county hasn’t seen any major voting problems. “We’ve had small things like a few paper jams, but that’s it,” O’Brien said.

In Lonoke County, which has about 34,000 registered voters, about 3,500, a little more than one-tenth, had already voted at noon on Tuesday. By Thursday that number had grown to 8,275, breaking down to 5,682 cast in Cabot and 2,593 in Lonoke.

The same was true in White County, which has about 46,000 registered voters. By noon Tuesday, 4,873 had voted, and by Thursday afternoon that number was at 7,515.

Officials there said 700 or more votes have been cast every day since the early voting started Oct. 20 but they expect more today when college students are home for the weekend and on Monday, when the procrastinators realize they have only one day left to take advantage of early voting.

Kent Walker, chairman of the Pulaski County Election Commission, said, “The interest level in early voting is unprecedented, both here and statewide. We are voting over 600 an hour countywide.”

Early voting continues at all satellite locations through 4 p.m. today, and then from 8 to 5 p.m. at the Pulaski County Regional Building in Little Rock and the court houses in Lonoke and Searcy for Lonoke and White counties.

Having so many people early vote, O’Brien said, would take some of the pressure of poll workers and machinery on Tuesday.

Even though Tuesday’s crowd may be smaller, O’Brien still recommends voters to cast their ballots mid morning or just right after lunch. “That way voters will avoid the after work rush,” he said.