- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - County clerks are reporting strong turnout in early voting before Arkansas’ primary Tuesday.

Statewide totals from the Secretary of State’s office show early voter turnout was at 191,757 - nearly double the turnout in 2012, when Arkansas held its primary in its typical late-May spot.

Legislators voted to move up this year’s primary to give the state more clout in the presidential primaries, as it did in 2008 when a favorite son and daughter were on the ballot.

Typically, about a third of Arkansas voters cast ballots as an absentee voter or in the two-week early voting period ahead of Election Day. If that trend continues, expect about 600,000 votes to be cast. The early 2008 primary had just the presidential races, not statehouse and local races. It drew 544,170.

That year, former Arkansas first lady Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination over a field that included future President Barack Obama and John Edwards, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won over Sen. John McCain, the eventual nominee, and 2012 nominee Mitt Romney.

Clinton is on the Democratic ballot this year. Huckabee’s name will be on the GOP ballot but he suspended his campaign a month ago.

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GOP INTEREST HEAVY

Arkansas voters are asking for Republican ballots by a 3-2 margin heading into Tuesday’s balloting.

Arkansas law does not require voters to declare allegiance to any party, so anyone validly registered with their county clerk can request any party’s ballot during the primary. In the early voting period, they asked for 118,556 GOP ballots and 72,749 Democratic ones.

Even in counties that are heavily Democratic, voters are asking for Republican ballots.

As an example, the top four candidates in the 2012 GOP primary collected just 25 votes among them in Lee County. Last Friday alone, voters asked for 27 GOP ballots. Also, Lincoln County had 53 GOP voters Friday - two more than the 51 who voted For Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul.

The crossover isn’t expect to have much impact in the Democratic presidential primary, with Clinton, as a former Arkansas first lady, expected to win a significant portion of the state’s delegates at stake, though it could have a bearing on local Democratic primaries, such as statehouse races or county judgeships.

With Huckabee out of the race GOP voters are receiving a heavy dose of Donald Trump and Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz during their evening television viewing - sparking the higher interest.

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12 HOURS TO VOTE

Arkansas polls open at 7:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. Polls will remain open for those in line at poll close, but don’t be late. Poll workers are instructed to turn away voters who arrive after that hour, even if there is a line out the door.

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DELEGATE MATH FOR DEMOCRATS

Winning an Arkansas presidential primary doesn’t mean a candidate can walk away with all the delegates at stake.

Arkansas Democrats on Tuesday will determine how 32 of the state’s 37 delegates will vote at the Democratic National Convention later this year, but the math isn’t easy.

Twenty-one will be decided based on voting within each of the state’s four congressional districts - six in southern and central Arkansas, four in northwestern Arkansas and five in eastern Arkansas. A candidate must receive 15 percent of the vote in a congressional district to earn a delegate.

Seven will be decided by the statewide total - again with a 15 percent threshold.

And four will be designated for party leaders and dignitaries to cast, based on the statewide percentage received by the candidates. The remaining five are reserved for superdelegates not bound by Tuesday’s results. All of Arkansas’ superdelegates have declared support for Clinton.

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DELEGATE MATH FOR REPUBLICANS

Arkansas Republicans will have 40 delegates at their national convention, with 37 determined Tuesday. While a candidate must have 15 percent of the vote in a congressional district or statewide to receive a delegate, there are some quirks.

There will be 25 delegates distributed by results of the statewide vote. Each candidate who receives more than 15 percent of the vote receives one delegate, with the rest divided proportionally if no candidate reaches 50 percent.

If a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the GOP vote statewide, he will receive all the delegates except for one each to any candidate who receives more than 15 percent.

Three delegates will be determined in each of the state’s four congressional districts. A candidate receiving more than 50 percent receives all three delegates. If no one hits 50 percent, the top vote-getter receives two and the runner up receives one.

Three delegates are allotted by the Republican National Committee.

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WHITHER MEDICAID

While the presidential primary and a pair of state Supreme Court seats have generated the most attention among television viewers, policy wonks will want to watch for the results of several state House and Senate primaries.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is not on the ballot but one of his key initiatives is. He wants Arkansas to keep the state’s version of a Medicaid expansion that uses federal dollars to buy health insurance for the poor, but many conservatives oppose the plan, or anything remotely like it, and derisively refer to it as a part of “Obamacare.”

The governor is hoping to make the “private option” Medicaid plan more palatable to his fellow Republicans by adding restrictions on benefits and eligibility. The GOP controls both houses at the Legislature, but the newly dubbed “Arkansas Works” program needs a three-quarters majority to remain alive.

A handful of past supporters of the Medicaid plan face challenges Tuesday, many from Republicans who oppose the expansion.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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