Sharp Co. early voting turnout high ahead of wet-dry decision

SHARP COUNTY, AR (KAIT) – While the race for the White House has garnered the most attention, there is another issue facing Sharp County voters attracting them to the polls.

Poll workers have seen heavy voter turnout this year, and some can only compare it to the interest voters felt when then Governor Bill Clinton ran for the presidency.

The excitement this year is partly driven by the race for the White House between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, but it is also because voters are deciding if the county should go wet.

Before voters enter the Sharp County Courthouse in Ash Flat, they first pass two people making a last effort to influence the wet-dry issue.

"I'm hoping if they're undecided, this may just be the little kick they need to decide against it," said Jack Dover of Cherokee Village.

Dover has parked his truck outside the courthouse since Monday when early voting started, sporting signs opposing the effort to allow alcohol sales locally.

"It (alcohol) affects people, destroys families," said Dover, who added that his religion has framed his position on the issue. "There's more detriment to it than there is good to it."

Less than 10 feet from Dover's truck sits Ruth Reynolds, the environmentalist who led the effort to get the issue on the ballot.

"I'm going to be here every day until Election Day," Reynolds said.

Reynolds hopes the wet issue passes so that harmful emissions are cut and more tax revenue is levied locally. That message appears to have caught on with a few people voting early.

"I think it should be a wet county myself," said Randy Vastlik of Evening Shade, "because everybody just goes to Missouri and gets what they want and brings it back, so Missouri gets the revenue and everybody here else suffers."

Vastlik concedes the presidency is a more important issue this year, but that coupled with the wet issue appears to have drive up voter turnout.

The Sharp County clerk's office estimates between 270 and 300 people have voted early each day on average, totaling more than 1,200 on Friday afternoon.

At that rate, Alisa Black, the chief deputy clerk, now expects to easily exceed the 2,733 ballots cast early in 2008 well before Election Day this year.

"Everybody just wants to get out and really have a say on what's going on in the country right now," Black said, "plus we have a lot of issues for Sharp County that are going on right now too. I think that's also bringing some people out that maybe wouldn't normally come out."

The clerk's office has also seen a rise in the number of absentee ballots sent in this year.

In 2008 the total number of ballots mailed in topped 350. This year, just days into the early voting period, the clerk's office has already received more than 420.

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