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Over 12,000 more voters have registered in Pulaski County than in 2016 election

Some 12,000 more voters have registered in Pulaski County this year than in the 2016 election, and the county clerk is says many of them are younger and minorities.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Some 12,000 more voters have registered in Pulaski County this year than in the 2016 election, and the circuit and county clerk is sensing many of them are younger and minorities energized by a year of unrest.

"I sense people wanting to be engaged and wanting to actually take their protests from the streets, especially from those killings that we've had," said Pulaski County clerk Terri Hollingsworth, who is preparing for her first big general election since winning the office in 2018.

Getting that protest spirit from the streets into ballot boxes has not always been easy and remains an open question, but even during a short interview at the Williams Library in Little Rock on National Voter Registration Day, Hollingsworth can see some of that spirit manifest.

A man expressed his gratitude to Hollingsworth as he went to sign up after he said her office helped him regain his voting rights lost because of an old felony conviction. She personally shepherded his application to the staff at the library.

"I get this a lot in terms of the interactions I've had, especially with younger voters and with interactions I'm seeing on Facebook," she said.

Across town, a trickle of young people used sanitized laptops to check their registrations during an event at UA-Little Rock.

"There's a lot of apathy regarding voting," said Mia Phillips, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Services. "A lot of people feel like their voice doesn't count, that their vote doesn't count."

Hollingsworth herself has been actively pursuing young voters. She traveled out of the county to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway last week for a voter education event.

The clerk's job is nominally non-partisan, but Hollingsworth is sure her position as a Black woman is reaching traditionally hard-to-reach voters.

"The main thing was to be sure that they had a civic engagement conversation about voting and make sure that they vote," she said. 

"In my case, they see somebody that looks like them, and somebody who is actually trying to get them engaged in the process and it makes them want to do the same."

Hollingsworth can recite off the top of her head the current tally of registered voters (253,874 as of Sept. 17), but she doesn't yet have the breakdown of where in the county the new voters are from or their racial demographics. 

Hollingsworth is realistic about what effect new voters might have on the presidential race deep red Arkansas but expects them to be heard from, while Phillips says young voters know the stakes.

"These young people will certainly be factors for our down the ballot races," Hollingsworth said. 

"For our judges, for our state representative positions, for our city board and city council positions that are around the county."

"It's probably more important than ever before," said Phillips. "We're at a critical juncture in our nation's history."