Stu Soffer of White Hall, a member of the state Board of Election Commissioners, is not happy that the Pulaski County Election Commission has sued over the commission’s attempt to correct a clear screwup in the Voter ID law passed by Republicans in the 2013 legislature.
You’ll recall that the law makes no provision for what to do about absentee voters who don’t include a proper ID in their mailed ballot. In-person voters get a week to produce an ID.
The state Board of Election Commissioners decided to overlook the advice of the attorney general — who has said the law is deficient — and write up a rule (a new law of their own making, in essence) to provide a cure for deficient absentee ballots. They’d be given time to produce an ID, too.
The Pulaski County Election Commission, though sympathetic, has declined to follow that commission rule. It has sued contending the commission has no authority to write law.
A courtroom is the place to resolve this. But you don’t cross Stu Soffer. He threatens lawyer ethics investigations against Chris Burks, a lawyer who sits on the County Election Commission, and Karla Burnett, the county attorney, who’s filed the lawsuit and advised the commission that the state body isn’t permitted to make law.
This is a “republic of laws” Soffer declares, even as he sets about to write law without benefit of legislative input.
Specifically, he says the Pulaski Commission should have followed what the state body ordered and counted as provisional ballots those submitted without IDs in this week’s special tax election for Pulaski Tech.
Silly stuff, really. Soffer, a bumptious sort, is determined and, I’ll grant, independent. He’ll call down his own party when warranted. He’s fighting an election procedures battle against either a) corruption or b) stupidity in Jefferson County (or maybe c), both) that defies easy summary. But here, we have a law that the state election commission’s attorney warned its legislative sponsor was deficient before it was introduced. It didn’t get fixed. It’s embarrassing to disfranchise long-time absentee voters, most of them elderly. To paper over the deficiency, defenders of voter ID want to make the problem go away by legislating on the fly, unconstitutionally, through an appointed committee. A judge should decide this, not a blunderbuss, frivolous threat from Stu Soffer. It ain’t the Republic of Stu. Nor is the state Board of Election Commissioners the last word on the law in Arkansas. The Pulaski Commission has every right to refuse a rule it believes to be unconstitutional. Soffer himself is doing that in disputing a would-be Pine Bluff mayor’s personal interpretation of state statute to get on the election ballot.
UPDATE: Soffer has decided to “pull” the complaint and instead ask the state Board to consider filing a complaint itself.
UPDATE II: If you’re following this at home (and I don’t know if I advise it), Chris Burks reports that the state Board of Election Commissioners did not properly promulgate its new rule on handling absentee ballots and thus were not in effect for this week’s special election in Pulaski County, according to advise from County Attorney Karla Burnett.