Public Policy Center launches program to collect data on ballot issues


It was a dream that former Lawrence County Choose Dale Freeman by no means acquired to totally understand. For a few years, the county wanted a greater jail and in 2014 the state threatened to shut the dilapidated jail the county had been utilizing for generations.

Freeman, together with the county’s Quorum Court docket, handed a decision to construct a brand new jail. Voters then handed two gross sales tax resolutions to construct the $8.5 million detention heart. The pitch from Freeman and different native officers was easy. It will price $600,000 per yr or extra to farm prisoners out to different jails, so a brand new one would pay for itself briefly order.

Freeman died from problems after a site visitors crash in 2016 and the jail he fought for opened in March of 2017.

Native poll initiatives to fund county jails have grown in recognition and officers with the Public Coverage Middle (PPC) on the College of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture took discover, PPC extension program affiliate Kristin Higgins advised Discuss Enterprise & Politics. County jails eat on common a few third of a county’s price range, so selections relating to these establishments have a major impression on all counties within the state, she mentioned.

Earlier this yr, the PPC has launched a venture to compile and analyze 20 years of historic information associated to native poll points. The curiosity began with jails, however it has now grown to incorporate loads of different native poll points. The purpose is to create a complete database that can be utilized to assist make public coverage selections.

“Election outcomes could also be revealed in native newspapers, however the greater image isn’t at all times there,” mentioned Higgins, who runs the extension program on the Public Coverage Middle. “Native gross sales tax and property tax elections can reveal broader group tendencies that cross metropolis or county traces. However we have now to construct that database first.”

The Arkansas Secretary of State supplies historic information about statewide poll measures on its web site, however any such data doesn’t exist on the native degree for Arkansas’ 75 counties. County clerks are chargeable for sustaining data which have till current years been all paper-based.

“We’ve been calling county clerks asking for any digital information they might have however understand loads of the data are tucked into information someplace, in the event that they haven’t been destroyed,” Higgins mentioned.

Main areas they wish to concentrate on are poll points that relate to gross sales tax will increase, financial growth, property taxes, and particular concern initiatives equivalent to ones for jails. They’re searching for information from the final 20 years, and Higgins mentioned the reason being that the hope is that loads of these data are digitized. PPC isn’t searching for college district initiatives as part of this venture, she added.

The Public Coverage Middle teamed up with Southern Arkansas College in Magnolia on the venture. SAU has dispatched college students enrolled in its Grasp of Public Administration program for the hassle.

“We’re honored and excited to have our MPA college students work with the UA Cooperative Extension workplace within the sensible software of their expertise on significant initiatives,” Dr. Amber Overholser, an assistant professor and Grasp of Public Administration program director in SAU’s Division of Historical past, Political Science and Geography, mentioned. “It’s vital for college students to have the chance to work with numerous stakeholders and contribute to our communities and areas.”

Saida Walker, a Grasp of Public Administration scholar on the college, is the primary intern to work on the venture. Walker, a California native, graduated from Southern Arkansas College with a bachelor’s diploma in English in 2018. She beforehand labored for the County of Los Angeles for six years and mentioned she enjoys being a part of packages that unite communities.

Walker has been asking clerks for poll concern titles and election outcomes of particular elections known as by cities, counties or by the citizen initiative course of. She can even contribute enter on learn how to share the outcomes with the general public.

One of many important issues they’ve encountered is how onerous it’s for counties to retrieve information on these initiatives. Lots of the data within the counties usually are not digitized and it has been onerous for some clerks to find the data. That in and of itself might be a public coverage concern that must be mounted, she added.

“As soon as we full our venture, we are going to share our evaluation on our web site,” Higgins mentioned.

COVID-19 has slowed the gathering course of and so they’ll want one other intern later this yr to proceed, she mentioned. Regardless of how a lot the venture has been hampered by the pandemic, they plan to finish this database, she added.

“It would take a while … it would flip right into a venture of affection,” Higgins mentioned.

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