Election Day isn’t always the second Tuesday in November. Across Arkansas, voters go to the polls each month to decide local ballot issues in special elections.
Southern Arkansas University and the Public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture have launched a project to compile and analyze 20 years of historic data related to local ballot issues.
“Election results may be published in local newspapers, but the bigger picture isn’t always there,” said Kristin Higgins, an extension program associate at the Public Policy Center. “Local sales tax and property tax elections can reveal broader community trends that cross city or county lines. But we have to build that database first.”
The Arkansas Secretary of State provides historical data about statewide ballot measures on its website, but this type of information doesn’t exist at the local level for Arkansas’ 75 counties. County clerks are responsible for maintaining records that have until recent years been all paper-based.
“We’ve been calling county clerks asking for any digital files they may have but realize a lot of the records are tucked into files somewhere, if they haven’t been destroyed,” Higgins said.
The Public Policy Center teamed up with SAU on the project. SAU has dispatched students enrolled in its master of public administration program for the effort.
“We are honored and excited to have our MPA students work with the UA Cooperative Extension office in the practical application of their skills on meaningful projects,” Dr. Amber Overholser, an assistant professor and master of public administration program director in SAU’s Department of History, Political Science and Geography, said.
“It’s critical for students to have the opportunity to work with various stakeholders and contribute to our communities and regions.”
Saida Walker, a master of public administration student at the university, is the first intern to work on the project. Walker, a California native, graduated from Southern Arkansas University with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2018. She previously worked for the County of Los Angeles for six years and said she enjoys being part of programs that unite communities.
Walker has been asking clerks for ballot issue titles and election results of special elections called by cities, counties or through the citizen initiative process. She will also contribute input on how to share the results with the public.
“Once we complete our project, we will share our analysis on our website,” Higgins said.
The Public Policy Center is located in the Community, Professional and Economic Development unit at the Cooperative Extension Service headquarters in Little Rock.
The center has published neutral voter guides on statewide ballot measures since 2004 and has produced similar facts sheets for more than 20 local special elections.
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