Gov. Mike Beebe cleared his desk of pending legislation today, signing all but three bills by Sen. Bryan King to put more power over election oversight in the office of secretary of state, now held by Republican Mark Martin. Beebe vetoed these bills:
* SB 719, to create an investigative unit in Martin’s office to investigate election complaints, a power already given to the state Board of Election Commissioners. Beebe said the bill “transfers virtually unfettered investigative power and authority to a partisan-elected official over complaints against persons accused, sometimes by political rivals, of violating election laws. However, while the bill makes it clear that the unit “shall” investigate “any” such complaint, the bill makes no provision for those cases in which a complaint might relate to the activities of the secretary of state or his/her office, or persons running for that office. Placing such unfettered authority in a partisan-elected office is a profoundly bad idea.
* SB 720, which authorizes the state Board of Election Commissioners to remove a county election commissioner if not qualified or for failure to perform duties. Beebe said the bill sets up a “mandatory, cumbersome and confusing” procedure for handling complaints, including a referral to the Ethics Commission even of complaints that “clearly lacks any basis in law or fact.” The bill erroneously commands referrals to the Legislative Council when the legislature is in session, even though the Council doesn’t meet then. Beebe said a procedure already exists in the law to remove commissioners.
* SB 721, which abolishes the current Board of Election Commissioners and reallocates appointments in such a way that, it so happens, will put the majority in the hands of Republican officeholders. “There is no evident need for a larger state board of Election Commissioners and blatant attempts to skew the political balance of a board charged with overseeing partisan elections will only harm, not promote, the public’s confidence in the integrity of our state’s election processes.”
Beebe said he’d receive complaints from counties and election officials “of all political persuasions urging me to veto these three bills. They see them, individually and collectively, as unwarranted attempts to undo a carefully crafted system of checks and balances and divisions of responsibility between the state Board of Election Commissioners, the secretary of state’s office and local election commissioners.”
It is, of course, nothing but part of a massive legislative effort by the new Republican majority to consolidate power, a piece with the voter ID bill that Beebe vetoed earlier. That veto was overridden.
The legislature will reconvene in mid-May to take care of any loose ends and adjourn. The House speaker and president pro tem may call the chambers back into session on adjournment date for purposes of an override of these vetoes. With Republicans in leadership of both chambers and a majority of members in both and with control of elections high on the GOP junta’s agenda, odds would seem to favor that happening.
UPDATE: The Arkansas County Election Commissions Association, which had testified against the bills, thanked Gov. Beebe for the vetos.
The Arkansas County Election Commissions Association (ACECA) sincerely thanks Governor Mike Beebe for his more than justified veto of Senate Bills 719, 720, and 721; and for listening to input from our association and members. These were unnecessary bills that would have blurred the lines separating activities of the Secretary of State and the State Board of Election Commissioners.
Susan Inman, leader of the association and a member of the state commission, officially issued the statement. But I’d note for the record that it was distributed by Stu Soffer, a Republican election commissioner who’s been active in voting issues.