Dr. Terisa Riley, chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, on Wednesday (September 7) rescinded the university’s proposal for an on-campus voting location after a special committee meeting was canceled Sebastian County election without explanation.
The cancellation came after news that Commissioner Cara Gean would once again oppose the plan. Gean provided no reason for his objection, including not contacting the other two commissioners. Commission Chairman Jason Vineyard said he didn’t know what Gean’s opposition to the UAFS plan was, but hoped she would say so. Talk Business & Politics contacted Gean several times by phone and email about this. She did not respond to any requests.
The Commission had scheduled a special meeting for Thursday (8 September) to reconsider a new polling station at the UAFS. The special committee meeting had been called for Thursday noon, but was canceled on Wednesday. An email was sent at 2:52 p.m. Wednesday from Sebastian County Elections Coordinator Meghan Hassler that the meeting, scheduled for Thursday, was canceled with no explanation given. Notice of this meeting was sent at 8:36 a.m. by Hassler with a note that the polling location was the subject of the special meeting.
Riley released a statement expressing his frustration with the process and his decision to withdraw the plan.
“We have worked diligently to gather relevant information and rearrange our schedules to attend the meeting. This is the second time a special meeting has been scheduled and cancelled. After the date for the second special meeting was given to us communicated yesterday, we continued to collect data and prepare our presentation for the commissioners,” Riley said in an email to Hassler and the Elections Commission.
CONTEXT OF THE VOTING SITE
In an Aug. 9 letter to the Elections Commission, Riley requested a voting center on the UAFS campus.
“As Chancellor of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, I often have the opportunity to support our students and our community in their efforts to become more informed and engaged citizens. As a regional public institution, serving our community is one of our fundamental missions. And I can think of no better way to advance that mission than by having a Sebastian County Voting Center on the UAFS campus on Election Day,” Riley said in the letter.
She said she had discussed this with her cabinet and everyone felt the university would be able to accommodate all Sebastian County voters safely and efficiently while providing a convenient and central location for students, employees and alumni. Elections Commissioner Lee Webb said the commission and staff visited the UAFS site ahead of an August 29 commission meeting.
Webb said the commission was assured that parking and easy access would not be an issue. He said it was an “ideal” site because it would serve a concentrated group of likely voters.
“Everything was looking good. We thought it was done. But then she voted no,” Webb said of Gean’s surprise opposition at the August 29 commission meeting.
It takes a unanimous vote to open and close a polling station. Because only two of the three commissioners were present at that meeting, Vineyard said on September 2 that the subject of the proposed UAFS polling location would be brought up again at a future meeting.
“I really don’t understand how this all happened after what seemed like a very productive and successful campus tour to see the location we proposed to use. Campus representatives were informed that they did not need to attend the Election Commissioners meeting, and we were all surprised when one Commissioner did not attend the meeting and another voted against opening the polls,” Riley said in her email Wednesday. “We have received no response as to why our proposal was refused. I appreciated the effort to have a special meeting to discuss our proposal with the three commissioners, but this ‘special meeting’ was canceled twice now.”
Riley said the university’s primary interest in the on-campus polling place comes from its institutional value placed on civic rights and responsibilities.
“One way to instill the value of a democratic society is to host a polling station on campus. Many universities across the country host these sites, and rightly so since public universities are open to all citizens. We want to support democracy by providing students and employees with safe and convenient ways to vote,” Riley said Friday.
She said in her email on Wednesday that she had hoped the university would have the opportunity to hold a public meeting where they could discuss the desire to provide a neutral, well-equipped public polling station with officers. certified law enforcement, ample parking and ADA accessibility at a highly recognized location in our community.
“This location would provide a safe and convenient voting location for employees, students, and members of our community, especially on the north side of Fort Smith. As a public university, we were hoping to use this example of a large university/state agency and community partnership in the same way that (the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville) did with its polling station on campus,” Riley said in the email. .
Riley said that although the offer of a polling station at UAFS has been rescinded, the university will focus on increasing voter registration and helping those without transportation to get to at a polling station in the community.
“We will never abandon our core value of civic responsibility and engagement so that the voices of our students, employees and community members always count,” Riley said.
VOTER SUPPRESSION ALLEGATION
Webb and Vineyard both said Wednesday that Gean plans to oppose the UAFS polling site again. Vineyard said Gean making it known that she would vote no, there was no need to “waste everyone’s time” with the reunion.
“It takes a unanimous vote to open or close a polling place,” Vineyard said. “Cara Gean said she had already voted no and no further discussion was necessary. She said no matter what was said, she was going to vote against.
Webb said Gean didn’t want to vote in public either.
“They didn’t want to face the media and vote no,” Webb said, adding that he didn’t blame Dr. Riley for withdrawing the proposal, but hopes the terms will change and it can come back to the commission.
Vineyard also hopes that future discussions can take place and that the UAFS site can be revisited.
“I’m disappointed. I would have loved to have UAFS with us. I hope we didn’t make them mad at us and that we can work with them in the future,” Vineyard said. location and thought it was a great idea. I’d still like to talk to them though and see if there’s a way to make it work later.
Webb alleged that Gean was not interested in facilitating student and faculty voting.
“I think it’s a travesty that he wasn’t adopted. The only reason, logically, you would vote no is because you wanted to suppress votes. I mean, it didn’t affect the other polling stations, and it had the potential to get votes from them, young people and students, who normally don’t vote. It’s our lowest voting demographic, and we’ve had very good luck with this (UAFS voting site) in solving that,” Webb told Talk Business & Politics.
Webb also said he plans to release a more detailed statement on Thursday on this and other committee actions that he believes the public should know about.