Earlier this summer, Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office passed along flawed data on Arkansas felons to county clerks, as Benji Hardy reported this week. The state Constitution deems convicted felons ineligible to vote until they have been discharged from probation or parole and paid all court costs, fees, fines and restitution; after that, they regain the right to vote. County clerks are obligated to remove ineligible felons from voter rolls.
The problem stemmed from the source of the data. The secretary of state had previously received periodic criminal history updates from Arkansas Community Correction (the state agency that oversees parole and probation) but after a lapse in receiving that data, secretary of state spokesperson Chris Powell said an internal review determined that the office was constitutionally required to get its information from the Arkansas Crime Information Center. ACIC is the state’s clearinghouse for criminal justice data, but it does not contain records of the felons who have regained their voting rights. The secretary of state’s office asked ACIC for information on individuals with felony convictions, and ACIC responded by sending the secretary of state a list of roughly 197,000 names — everyone who has ever been convicted of a felony in Arkansas. The secretary of state’s office then passed that data, or at least a portion of it — Powell said he couldn’t pinpoint the exact number of names — to county clerks.
As Hardy reported, clerks in the state’s most populous counties quickly realized the data was flawed. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane received a list of around 2,000 names from the secretary of state’s office. After reviewing 600, it determined that only 200 were definitively ineligible to vote.
Of the eight county officials Hardy spoke to earlier this week, the response to the felon list varied dramatically. So we decided to try get a broader picture. Our staff contacted all 75 counties in the state and received answers from 62 of them.
Among the takeaways:
At least 17 counties are taking a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach, which almost guarantees some eligible voters have been removed from voter rolls. These counties removed everyone on the list they received and sent them letters notifying them they had been removed. They’ll only be reinstated if they’re contacted by those who were removed.
Even in counties where officials investigated cases individually before removing voters from rolls there are several instances where people who were removed came back and proved they were eligible.* In other words, researching the list could mean a wide range of things. Due diligence doesn’t ensure accuracy. Even a clerk with the best intentions could make a mistake. The ACIC data has no information about where felons are in their sentence. Arkansas Community Correction can provide info on whether someone has completed parole or probation supervision and paid related fees, but only courts or circuit clerks would know whether an individual has paid fines and restitutions.
A number of counties say they’re waiting for guidance from the secretary of state’s office. But that doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Here’s what Benji reported earlier this week:
Powell said the secretary of state’s office recommendation is to “err on the side of caution” (a directive that can be interpreted two ways). “It’s kind of the clerks’ prerogative about how they want to handle these things,” he said.
A number of clerks are really upset about the situation. It’s their job, after all, to register voters and ensure the integrity of the voter rolls. Most county clerks take that duty seriously. Plus, with the election approaching, some of the larger counties say they’re not sure if they can handle the increased workload
Some counties say they never received a list from the secretary of state. Why not? It’s possible the secretary of state simply didn’t send data to all the counties. We’ve requested the secretary of state’s office provide numbers on how many names it sent to each county, but they haven’t done so thus far.
In Clark County, 25 of those on the list had no criminal history. ACIC said earlier that it discovered 4,000 names on the list it provided the secretary of state that were clerical errors from long ago. Brad Cazort of ACIC told Hardy that these convictions were all 20 years old or more — and indeed, the majority of the complaints in most counties seem to have come from felons who were wrongly disenfranchised, not people who have never been convicted of a felony at all. What happened with the data sent to Clark County? Who are these people who have been mistakenly tagged with a criminal history? Have they contacted ACIC? Such a large sampling of names in one county bears further investigation.
Here are responses from each county. We’ll update this as we hear back from other clerks.
Arkansas: County Clerk Melissa Wood said, in general, her department does its due diligence before removing felons from its voter rolls, but she said she has not received a list of felons flagged for removal from the secretary of state.
Ashley: All of the “around 30 people” who were flagged for removal by the list provided by the secretary of state were booted from voter rolls and notified by mail, according to County Clerk Christie Martin. So far, four of that number have proven that they are eligible to vote and have been reinstated.
Baxter: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Benton: Benton County Clerk Tena O’Brien said her county, the state’s second largest, received about 500 names from the secretary of state in June. Her office removed about 25 before they discovered how out of date the information was. “I told the secretary of state, ‘I want them all put back to active till I can go back and review each and every one of them.’ I’m not sure it can be done before the election, though,” O’Brien said. With hundreds of names to process and fall elections to prepare for, she’d like some assistance from the state. But, she said, “They more or less indicated that the clerks would have to do this.”
Boone: Penny Goodman, county registrar, said her office received a list of 51 names from the secretary of state’s office and had removed eight from voter rolls before she heard from that the data might be flawed. Those eight were reinstated.
Bradley: Of the 33 names received, county officials determined that 25 were eligible and notified the remaining eight by mail, according to Deputy County Clerk Veronica Wallace. So far, one of those eight has demonstrated that he, too, is indeed eligible to vote and has been reinstated.
Calhoun: A deputy clerk in the state’s least populous county said her office was “playing it safe” and not removing any of the five names it received from the secretary of state.
Carroll: Election coordinator Sherry Cochrane said all of the “about 50” names of voters her county received were removed from the rolls and notified by mail. Eight have since complained and been reinstated.
Chicot: Alex Manning, deputy clerk, said she was waiting to see what other clerks were going to do before taking action on the 33 names she received. She said she was concerned about removing people and notifying them by letter, because addresses may have changed.
Clark: Election officials immediately recognized that the list they were provided contained incorrect information, so they worked with the circuit clerk, sheriff’s office and Arkansas Community Corrections to determine who should be removed. So far, they have determined that 38 of the 62 names they were given were indeed eligible voters. Of the 38, 25 had no criminal history and one had been charged, but not convicted. “If even two names are wrong, that’s serious,” County Clerk Rhonda Cole said.
Clay: Election officials recognized most of the 12 to 14 people on its list as active voters, so they looked up the criminal history of each one. So far, they have only identified two as ineligible to vote.
Cleburne: Election officials removed all 69 voters who were on their list and notified them by mail. Twelve to 15 have since proved they are eligible and have been restored. Thirty of the letters mailed came back to the clerk’s office with incorrect addresses.
Cleveland: County Clerk Jimmy Cummings said five of the “about 25” on his list had satisfied the requirements to vote again. He removed the rest and notified them by mail.
Columbia: Deputy Clerk Barbara Smith recognized the first name on the list provided by the secretary of state as wrong and sent the whole list of 144 names to Arkansas Community Correction to check. It determined that 116 were eligible.
Conway: Election officials are reviewing the 32 or 33 names the office received — of the six they have processed, four have been deemed eligible.
Craighead: County Clerk Kade Holliday said his office received a list of 153 flagged individuals in June, but “ultimately, we were able to dismiss 92 of those names, because we were able to show they actually had fulfilled their sentence.” Holliday said his office has worked with the local parole and probation office to identify people who should be eligible.
Crawford: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Crittenden: All of the “around 100 people” who were flagged for removal were booted from voter rolls and notified by mail. Since then “zillions” have called in, according to an election official, who could not offer the precise number of eligible voters who have been restored. At least “some,” she said.
Cross: Of the 43 names provided to Cross County, officials, going case-by-case, determined that 38 of them were eligible voters.
Dallas: County Clerk Susie Williams says she never received the list from the secretary of state’s office, but she said she would be upset if such a list affected any eligible voters in her county. “If it involved one voter in my county that’s not supposed to be on that list, I’m going to be madder than H.”
Desha: There were 40 names on the list county officials received. Voter registration coordinator Kimberly Mitchell could not provide the number of those that had been removed.
Drew: County Clerk Lyna Gulledge said her office planned to start today to review the list of around 36 names to determine if any were actually felons who should be removed.
Faulkner: County Clerk Margaret Darter had a list of 159 names and “approximately a dozen” complaints. Her office has manually reinstated anyone it initially canceled. “I hate that this has happened, and I hate opening up wounds for people who have already done this once,” Darter said.
Franklin: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Fulton All 15 names of voters officials received were removed and notified by mail. So far, one voter has successfully demonstrated her eligibility and been reinstated.
Garland: County Clerk Sarah Smith said it removed all 391 people who were on its list, but when she heard from the secretary of state’s office that the list included errors, she asked for a blanket reinstatement. Now, she says she’s waiting for a corrected list from the secretary of state. If that’s not forthcoming, she says her office will proceed case-by-case.
Grant: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Greene: All 40 names of voters that officials received were removed and notified by mail. So far, four voters have successfully demonstrated their eligibility and been reinstated.
Hempstead: There were 63 names on the list officials received. They are still reviewing the list and have not removed anyone yet.
Hot Spring: Election officials removed all 72 of the names on the list they received and notified them all but one by mail. So far 10 people have contacted them complaining that they should not have been cancelled, and one person has demonstrated that he was in fact eligible and was reinstated.
Howard: Officials turned its list of 26 names over to the circuit clerk to research. So far, it’s determined that three voters are eligible and three or four are felons, but it’s still processing names.
Independence: Election coordinator Tammy Hillis said she received a list that included “60 something” flagged names of voters, but she hasn’t acted on the list. She said she’s waiting to hear back from the secretary of state, who she said was working on the issue with Election Systems & Software, whose voter database is used by the secretary of state. “They’re fixing to deplete that whole batch and we’re going to restart again,” she said.
Izard: Officials don’t know how many people were on the list it received from the secretary of state, but so far it’s removed 30 people from voter rolls.
Jackson: After noticing old conviction dates, officials went case-by-case through the 20 to 25 names it received and deemed at least half of them eligible to vote.
Jefferson: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Lafayette: Of the 21 people on the list it received, county officials removed 11 from voter rolls after consulting with the circuit clerk and determined 10 were eligible. One of the 10 had come to the clerk’s office to prove he was eligible after hearing about the secretary of state’s mistake.
Lawrence: Officials noticed old conviction dates before they were notified by the secretary of state’s office about the potential for errors. Ultimately, by going through case-by-case, they determined that 21 of the 44 were eligible to vote.
Lee: After a reporter described the list to County Clerk Lynsey Russell, she said it was the first she had heard about it. “It’s probably in that email that we never check,” she said. She said she would look into it.
Lincoln: Stephanie James, chief deputy clerk, is researching each of the 24 names she received before acting.
Little River: All 13 names on the list the county received were removed and notified by mail. So far one person has demonstrated that he is indeed eligible and been reinstated.
Logan: County Clerk Peggy Fitzjurls said her office had been working under the assumption that the list provided by the secretary of state was correct. She removed all of the “about 17” voters on her list and notified them by mail. So far one voter has complained, but has yet to prove that he is indeed eligible to vote.
Lonoke: There were about 155 individuals flagged on the list she received in June, County Clerk Dawn Porterfield said. Her office removed them all and has received “10 to 20 phone calls” of people saying they were improperly removed. “The ones that can prove they were reinstated were reinstated,” she said. She said she is considering requesting the stat reverse the remaining cancellations and wants guidance from the secretary of state’s office about how to proceed.
Madison: The county clerk’s office recognized many of the 20 to 30 names on its list as people who had long ago had their voting rights restored. Because of that, they’ve been sitting on their list and have not yet removed anyone.
Marion: The county has removed none of the 33 on the list it received, but has sent all of them letters while it tries to verify eligibility case-by-case. So far three have been verified as eligible.
Miller: Officials said they’re doing nothing with their list of 90 names until they hear from the secretary of state.
Mississippi: County officials are going case-by-case through the 229 names on its list, but couldn’t provide the numbers for those deemed eligible or ineligible.
Monroe: Jessica Self, county election coordinator, said all 24 names on the list she received had been removed. “We have a lot of felons in Monroe County,” she said.
Montgomery: The county has removed no one from the voter rolls, but has mailed out letters to the 10 people on its list asking if they have paperwork that would show they can now vote. One name on list they knew was in error.
Nevada: County officials didn’t receive the list from the secretary of state, and after hearing about problems from other clerks, the clerk decided not to request it.
Newton We’ve been unable to reach the election coordinator.
Ouachita: County Clerk Britt Williford said he realized right away that the list of 178 flagged names he received in June was flawed — in part because many of the conviction dates were so old, and in part because “I came across a couple names of people who I knew were felons in the past and had their rights restored. … As far as I’m concerned, the data we received from [the secretary of state] is flawed and I don’t have any way of verifying it, and I think they need to correct it. I’m not going to remove someone who’s been voting these last years. It’s terrible. … That’s violating their rights. It’s a quandary.”
Perry: Officials haven’t gone through their list of 18 people, but plan to proceed case-by-case.
Pike: County Clerk Sandy Campbell said she removed all 18 of those on the list she received. So far, six people have contested their removal and four have successfully demonstrated that they are eligible. Additionally, Campbell determined that four others were eligible. One of the convictions on her list was from the 1950s.
Phillips: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Poinsett: Officials removed all 75 of the people who were on the list they received. So far 11 have contested their removal, but only one person has successfully demonstrated his eligibility.
Polk: County Clerk Terri Harrison said she recognized several names as being out of date in the list of 39 she received and has been working with the circuit clerk to research cases. So far, it’s determined that 3 people are eligible.
Pope: County Clerk Laura McGuire said her office had removed about 50 of the 90 names they received when they were told the list contained flaws. They’re now reviewing the list on a case-by-case basis and reinstating those that appear to be eligible. So far three people have contacted the office to say they are eligible and all provided the necessary info to be reinstated.
Prairie: County Clerk Rebecca Hayely said she removed all 20 to 25 names she received and notified them by mail. So far two to three people have demonstrated that they are eligible to vote and have been restored.
Pulaski: County Clerk Larry Crane said he received a list of around 2,000 flagged names from the secretary of state’s office in June, and has reviewed some 600 individual cases as of Aug. 1. “Of that 600, roughly 200 are appropriate felons,” Crane said, while 119 are clearly “innocent bystanders” and many more require further review to conclusively determine eligibility.
Randolph: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Saline: The county clerk passed the list to County Attorney Clay Ford, who is reviewing each of the 183 on the list case-by-case. “My goal is to have this list down to a T by the general election,” Ford said. “We’re not planning on removing anybody until we’ve processed the list.”
Scott: The clerk said she was too busy with other work and to call back.
Searcy: We’ve been unable to get specific numbers from county officials, but they said they took no one off voter rolls and have been researching each case individually.
Sebastian: We’ve been unable to reach County Clerk Sharon Brooks, but her assistant said the county didn’t receive a list from the secretary of state. When contacted last week, an employee in the office said the county had received a list of 8 names, and “hadn’t had any problems.” (This low number is peculiar, since Sebastian is the fourth-largest county in the state.)
Sevier: County officials are reviewing all of the 15 names it received and have not taken any action. It anticipates finishing its analysis by the end of August.
Sharp: County officials have not yet reviewed the list of 73 names they received.
St. Francis: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Stone: When scanning the 26 names on its list, the county clerk recognized a person who was not a felon and decided to review the names case-by-case, but hasn’t begun that process yet.
Union: “I’ve been wondering what’s going on myself,” County Clerk Shannon Phillips said. “I don’t know what they did or how they did it. The secretary of state needs to kick in and help us. That’s not what Arkansas needs at a time like this.”
Van Buren: The county election coordinator took no action on her county’s list and deleted it after learning from the secretary of state that it contained errors.
Washington: County Clerk Becky Lewallan said her office had processed about 30 out of 545 names when it realized the data was bad. “You could tell something was off about it,” she said; then, the office received the letter from the secretary of state. She requested the blanket reinstatement and is now reviewing them on a case-by-case basis.
White: Of the 107 people on its list, county officials have determined that 88 were eligible voters. The remaining number have been removed from voter rolls, but have not yet been notified by mail.
Woodruff: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
Yell: We’ve been unable to reach the county clerk.
*This post has been updated.