As expected, the Pulaski County Election Commission voted this morning to sue over a new state Board of Election Commissioners rule on handling absentee ballots submitted without ID required under a 2013 law. The action will be broad, which means it could expand into the whole question of the constitutionality of the Voter ID law generally.
The vote was 2-0 by Democratic commissioners Chris Burks and Leonard Boyle. The Republican member, Phil Wyrick, resigned last week because he became a candidate for county judge. The Party must appoint a replacement. Wyrick had favored following the attorney general’s opinion on handling absentee ballots, which is at variance with the state board’s new rule.
The new Voter ID law does not provide a “cure” for absentee voters who fail to mail in required ID. Secretary of State Mark Martin had decided in a special Senate election to recommend giving absentee voters with deficient ballots a week to present ID to the county clerk. This is the same privilege afforded in-person voters. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said the rule isn’t provided by law. Pulaski County will challenge the rule as unconstitutional for that reason.
The theory to be lenient is to increase the possibility that votes would be counted. On the Republican side, it’s also to provide cover for the sloppy drafting of a law designed to discourage voter participation, in person and by absentee, by Democratic constituencies. The legislation was developed by national Republican-leaning groups to pass around the country. In practice in the special Senate election, few of the absentee voters who failed to produce IDs responded to the opportunity to fix their votes. It’s not surprising since so many absentee voters are elderly people with limited transportation or ability to get around.
Voter fraud by impersonation almost never happens in-person. Voters must present ID to register originally and signatures may be compared if there are questions about those casting the ballots.
Burks told me this in an e-mail about today’s vote:
The Pulaski County Election Commission voted 2-0 to sue for a declaratory judgment. The language of my motion to do so was intentionally broad, and our vote directed the County attorney legal staff to analyze and then potentially present all legal issues of interpreting the constitutionality as well as State Board actions for a Circuit Court judge to determine. We also directed that the County attorney move quickly and include a request for a temporary injunction if appropriate ahead of the Pulaski Tech election [March 11]. Lastly, we directed that Circuit/County Clerk Larry Crane’s office be included as a plaintiff if the legal staff finds it necessary and Larry continues to consent, as he did at the meeting today.
A number of groups have been interested in suing the state over the Voter ID law, but an appropriate plaintiff hasn’t emerged yet. This action could open the door that the ACLU, the Arkansas Public Law Center and others have been anxious to go down.