LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Early voting opens Tuesday for runoff elections for a handful of state and federal offices in Arkansas, but history suggests that few voters will return to the polls for the followup.
The heated battle between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter for the Democratic Senate nomination headlines the ballot, which also features runoffs for three congressional seats and two constitutional offices.
Secretary of State Charlie Daniels says he's not making a prediction on voter turnout for the runoff, but said it typically drops off sharply in a runoff. Twenty-nine percent of the state's 1.6 million registered voters cast a ballot in the May 18 primary — shy of the 30 to 35 percent turnout Daniels had predicted for that election.
"I'm sure the candidates will understand that and will get the vote out," Daniels said last week.
Lincoln and Halter both say turnout is key for their victory in the Democratic primary, but history shows they're both reaching from a narrower pool of voters this time. In 2006, the turnout from the primary to the runoff dropped in half from 22 percent to 11 percent.
In 2002, it dropped even further — from 26 percent to 6 percent.
Lincoln is fighting to save her seat as she fends off a challenge from Halter, who has enjoyed the backing of labor unions and liberal groups frustrated with the incumbent senator. Business groups have backed her. The race has become an expensive battle, with outside groups pouring in millions on both sides — mostly for television advertising. [See who is donating to Lincoln's campaign.]
Combined, Lincoln and Halter have spent more than $10 million on the race. Republican Congressman John Boozman won his party's nomination for the Senate seat outright in the May primary. [See which industries give the most money to Boozman.]
In the 1st Congressional district, former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge is running against Chad Causey, the former chief of staff to retiring Rep. Marion Berry, for the Democratic nomination. Berry, who represents the 1st District, decided against seeking another term this year.
Republicans have nominated Rick Crawford for Berry's seat.
The Democratic runoff for the 2nd Congressional District pits House Speaker Robbie Wills against state Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock. They're running for the seat held by Rep. Vic Snyder, a Democrat retiring at the end of the year. Republicans have nominated former interim U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin for the seat.
The 3rd Congressional District GOP runoff is between Rogers Mayor Steve Womack and state Sen. Cecile Bledsoe of Rogers. Democrats have nominated David Whitaker for the seat, currently held by Boozman.
The ballot will also feature two statewide contests. State Rep. Monty Davenport faces Jonesboro businessman L.J. Bryant in the Democratic runoff for land commissioner, and Pulaski County Clerk Pat O'Brien faces Land Commissioner Mark Wilcox in the Democratic runoff for secretary of state.