Monday marked a last-minute push by dozens of candidates to spread the word about why they would do a better job than their opponents if they're chosen in today's primary election. Voting is from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at local precincts.
Early voting came to a close at 5 p.m. at the Jefferson County Courthouse, with 2,987 people casting ballots during a two-week period. Under a bright red tent set up beside Barraque Street Monday afternoon, supporters of several candidates made their choices known by waving signs and handing out information cards.
Jefferson County voters will have to make a choice of which election (Republican or Democrat) they want to vote in today.
“A voter is entitled to vote in the political party primary of their choice, the Republican or Democrat primary,” said Jefferson County Election Commission Secretary Stuart “Stu” Soffer.
“They do not have to have any affiliation whatsoever with the political party in whose primary they want to vote. Moreover, in the November general election, they are not obligated to vote for the candidate representing the political party whose primary they voted in.”
Soffer further explained that, “for example, if you want to have a say in the four contested county official races (i.e., county judge, sheriff, tax collector and coroner), you will have to vote in the Democrat primary. Conversely, if you want to have a say in the 4th Congressional District or Secretary of State race, you will have to vote in the Republican primary. Both political parties have contested governor's races. It is a simple matter of asking for the Republican or Democrat ballot when you check in to vote.
“Be aware if a voter votes in the Republican primary and there is a runoff in the Democrat primary, it is a felony offense to crossover vote. So make your decision before arriving at the poll. If you are unsure, view the sample ballots posted on a wall before checking in.”
In one of this election's biggest local races, former Jefferson County Judge Dutch King and Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson, who is retiring at the end of this year, are vying for county judge in the Democratic Primary. No Republicans filed for the seat.
Robinson said in a text message on Monday afternoon that he is “very confident about (the election). I have given and continue to do my best! I continue to stand and believe that the voters recognize my leadership ability and want me to be the next Jefferson County Judge! I ask that our voters go to their perspective precincts and cast their vote for Gerald Robinson's proven Leadership for a New Direction.”
King said via telephone that he has been “reaching out to as many people as we can find, and we appreciate all the efforts and all we put into this campaign. This campaign is strictly about Jefferson County. We have so many people to be thankful for, and we are appreciative to all the help and kind words and encouragement. We are really blessed.”
King said the election is “in God's hands, and his will will decide whatever will be done. And that's fine with me.”
In the race for Jefferson County sheriff, also on the Democratic ticket, current sheriff's Maj. Lafayette Woods Jr will take on former deputy Larry Gragg and retired Arkansas State Trooper Roger McLemore.
Tony Washington and Leslie Elizondo Mitchell are vying for the Jefferson County tax collectors seat in the Democratic Primary. Current Tax Collector Stephanie Stanton is retiring at the end of the year.
Jefferson County Coroner Chad Kelley will take on Christian Westbrook on the Democratic ticket. Incumbent District 1 Justice of the Peace Morris Caldwell is being challenged by former JP Alfred Carroll Sr. on the Democrat side.
Incumbent District 4 Justice of the Peace Mandy Alford is being challenged by former Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Royal Johnson in the Democratic Primary. In District 13, former Justice of the Peace Edward Spears, who is trying to get his job back, will take on current JP Brenda Bishop Gaddy on the Democratic ticket.
Three contested Pine Bluff City Council races will also appear on the Democratic Party ballot. In Ward 1, Position 2, Joni Alexander will take on Alderwoman Thelma Walker and Milton Jenkins.
In Ward 3, Position 2, retired Pine Bluff Police Chief Ivan Whitfield is challenging former Alderman Glen Brown Sr. and incumbent Bill Brumett. In Ward 4, Position 2, incumbent Alderman Steven Mays has drawn opposition from Clarence Edward Davis.
The only statewide primary on the Democratic Party ballot will be the party's nominee for governor, with Leticia Sanders being placed in the top spot on the ballot while Jared K. Henderson will be second.
There will also be a Republican Party primary for governor. In that contest, incumbent Governor Asa Hutchinson will be second on the ballot and his challenger, Jan Morgan, will be first.
For Arkansas secretary of state, State Rep. Trevor Drown is taking on Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands John Thurston on the Republican ticket.
Also on the Republican Party primary ballot will be a contest for U.S. Congress in the First District, a race for secretary of state, for state representative District 14 and for justice of the peace District 10. Incumbent Congressman Rick Crawford will be placed in the number one spot on the ballot, and his challenger, Chintan Desai, will be in the second position.
Current District 14 Representative Roger Lynch won the top spot while his challenger, Christina (Chris) Jones, will be second. In the justice of the peace contest, current District 10 JP Dr. Conley F. Byrd Jr. will be number one on the ballot and his challenger, Richard Saucier Sr., will be number two.
Tuesday's ballot will also feature a non-partisan race for the state Supreme Court that's been dominated over the past few weeks by a spending blitz from out-of-state conservative groups that's prompted a court fight over one of the group's ads. Two judges gave conflicting orders about the Judicial Crisis Network's ad attacking Justice Courtney Goodson, with one ordering Little Rock area stations to stop running the spot and another ruling it could air in northwest Arkansas.
Goodson, who is running against state Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson and Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling, filed three lawsuits aimed at halting the ads. The conservative group has spent more than $871,000 on TV ads targeting Goodson and Hixson, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Goodson said the ruling helps level the playing field against the outside spending, but said she believed there was already pushback from voters to the ads.
“Voters don't like it and they have good noses. They can smell a rat here, and that rat is dark money,” she said.
Hixson also vented frustration about the ads targeting him.
“Negative advertising has always worked, and it's working now,” Hixson said. “I've probably gotten 50 calls at my office telling me what a jerk I am and what a sorry person I am, so I'm pretty hot right now.”
If no one wins a majority of the vote in the high court race, the top two candidates advance to a runoff in the November election. Another group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has spent more than $564,000 on TV ads and mailers supporting Sterling. Sterling said he's not connected to either group's ads and said he's focusing on his own campaign.
“They do have a constitutional right to speak just like anybody else in this race. I'm just not involving myself in their dispute they have with either one of the parties,” Sterling said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.