What to expect on election night in Arkansas

 

The biggest name on the ballot this year in Arkansas is Sarah Sanders, who was White House press secretary under Donald Trump and is bidding to be the first woman elected governor of the solidly Republican state.

If indeed she lands the job once held by her father, Mike Huckabee, Sanders would become the highest profile former Trump administration elected to office. She’s running against Democratic nominee Chris Jones, an ordained Baptist minister and nuclear engineer. The race also features Libertarian nominee Ricky Dale Harrington.

If Jones or Harrington wins, they’d become the first Black candidate elected to statewide office in Arkansas.

The state’s four Republican U.S. House members and GOP Sen. John Boozman are considered safe in their reelection bids.

Sanders may be the biggest name, but the biggest question on the ballot is whether a solidly red state could go even further Republican but also legalize recreational marijuana. The state’s voters overwhelmingly backed Donald Trump for president in 2016, the same year they approved allowing medical marijuana.

This year, they could make the state the first in the South to legalize recreational cannabis. Arkansas is one of five states with recreational marijuana on the ballot on Election Day. The campaign has drawn millions of dollars from supporters and opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment.

Here’s a look at what to expect on election night:

ELECTION NIGHT

Polls close at 7:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. ET).

HOW ARKANSAS VOTES

For the 2020 general election, held during the midst of the pandemic, 78 percent of votes were cast early in vote centers or by absentee. For the 2022 primary, early voting was 50 percent of votes cast, which was closer to past elections.

The early vote ballots are typically the first reported because they have been flowing into country clerk offices for weeks and are counted as they arrive. This means a large percent of the total vote is released within two hours of polls closing at 7:30 p.m. local time. In the 2020 general election, 50 percent of the vote was counted by 9:16 p.m. local time.

Arkansas is predominantly Republican. The state’s Democratic stronghold is Pulaski County, where Little Rock is located. Other counties that have voted Democrat in recent years are located in east Arkansas and Jefferson County, where Pine Bluff is located.

DECISION NOTES

The AP will count votes and declare winners in 95 contested elections in Arkansas, including one U.S. Senate race, the governor’s race and four U.S. House races.

In the 2020 general election, the AP first reported Arkansas results at 7:38 p.m. local time and 90% of results at 11:14 p.m. local time on election night.

The AP may call a statewide or U.S. House race in which the margin between the top two candidates is 0.5% or less, if we determine the lead is too large for a recount to change the outcome. Arkansas has no mandatory recount law. A candidate can request a recount regardless of the margin.

The AP will not call down-ballot races on election night if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 2% or if the leading candidate is within 2% of the 50% runoff threshold. The AP will revisit those races later in the week to confirm there aren’t enough outstanding votes left to count that could change the outcome.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?

Q: What did we learn from the primary?
A: Arkansas’ primary showed how much influence not just Trump but Sanders herself already has on the state’s GOP voters. She helped Boozman make the closing argument for reelection, appearing in a campaign ad as the incumbent lawmaker fended off challengers who tried to paint him as not conservative enough.

Q: What’s changed since the pandemic election of 2020?
A: The trend toward offering early in-person voting continues. For the 2022 general election, there are vote centers in 48 of 76 Arkansas counties. For the 2020 general election, 32 counties offered vote centers.

Two years ago, 78 percent of ballots were cast in advance by absentee ballots or at vote centers. This year, more voters may be more inclined to show up at polling places on Election Day.

Arkansas’ Republican Legislature redrew the state’s four U.S. House districts in 2021. The Little Rock area was split among three House districts, rather than keeping it all within the 2nd District. The move was widely seen as making the district tougher for Democrats to reclaim the GOP seat.

The Legislature also approved new voting restrictions, including a change to the state’s voter ID law that removes the option for someone without identification to cast a ballot if they sign an affidavit affirming their identity.

Q: What do turnout and advance vote look like?
A: Turnout for a midterm election is typically lower than that of a presidential year election. For the 2020 presidential election, turnout in Arkansas was 67 percent of registered voters. In the 2018 midterms, turnout was 50 percent.

Q: How long does counting usually take?
A: The vast majority of votes will be counted on election night.

Q: What are the pitfalls with early returns?
A: Early returns can provide a picture of things to come, but races can be re-shaped later in the evening when results come in from a large urban center or from a candidate’s home region, for example. It’s best to treat early returns as an indicator rather than a sure thing, knowing that, like a sporting event, there can be twists and turns before it’s over.

Q: What happens after Tuesday?
A: If it is too close to call on election night, the AP will resume reviewing the results Wednesday morning. In cases where the race remains too close to call, the AP will not call the race and the winner will be determined after counties submit their verified vote totals Nov. 23.

QUOTABLE

“It’s clear to me folks are ready. There’s a moment where folks are saying, ‘Of all the barriers and the ceilings to be broken, here’s one we want to break.’” — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Jones, on possibility of becoming first Black candidate elected to statewide office.

“This state is fired up and ready to see a generation step in. They’re ready to make sure we have somebody who is a fighter, that is capable of pushing back against the radical left and the crazy ideas that are coming out of Washington.” — Republican gubernatorial nominee Sarah Sanders

PARTING THOUGHT

This assessment is from AP reporter Andrew DeMillo, who has been covering the campaign:

“The biggest question about Arkansas’ election is whether a solidly red state could go even further Republican but also legalize recreational marijuana. The state’s voters overwhelmingly backed Donald Trump for president in 2016, the same year they approved allowing medical marijuana.

Could they this year elect Trump’s former spokeswoman as governor, but also allow recreational marijuana? The results could show just how much that issue cuts across party lines.”

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