Republican vote suppression continues in Arkansas and the path to the ballot for amendments and referenda seems likely to get harder.

ABSENTEE VOTING

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The legislature plans to further limit early voting by eliminating it the day before an election and shutting down voting earlier on the Saturday before an election. It has already approved legislation to require a photo ID with an absentee ballot.

No one has moved to make the absentee ballot process help rather than harm people unable to get to the polls.

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No significant move has been made to make no-excuse absentee voting protected by statute. It was allowed in the last election by executive order.

No move has been made to give absentee voters an opportunity to cure defects in absentee ballot applications. For example, the law to require the photo ID doesn’t give absentee voters the same right in-person voters have to produce an ID by the Monday after an election if they forget to bring it to the polls and cast a provisional ballot. (No thought has been given to people without an ID or a means to get to a government office to get one, or to those who have an ID but means to make a photocopy to mail.)

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No move has been made to end Arkansas’s status as one of only four states that still require a signature match between voter records and ballot applications. It is junk science and folly to claim signature matching is reliable. Even Republicans admitted that in arguing for photo ID but they didn’t propose to end it.

No move has been made to end the disqualification of ballots for the smallest of reasons without notice to voters.

So while there’s no hope at the legislature, controlled by a Republican Party that wants fewer voters, not more, some glimmer of hope still exists in a civil rights lawsuit in federal court, where the League of Women Voters is challenging absentee procedures.

The suit has continued, though Judge P.K. Holmes ruled earlier that it came too late in the 2020 election to intervene.

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The state wants this lawsuit dismissed. Naturally. They like a nonsensical, unfair system that depresses voter participation (and if the biggest victim is Pulaski County, still Democratic, so much the better.)

Here’s the plaintiffs’ response to the state’s motion to dismiss, filed this week.

It’s worth a read if, for no other reason, to get an understanding of the obstacles thrown up to election participation.

Under the alibi of fighting fraud, the lawsuit can demonstrate how hundreds of legal ballots were disqualified in 2020 for “minor and often absurd technicalities.”

… for example, a determination that a voter’s correctly stated address did not “match” a single-digit error in the voter’s zip code on one part of the absentee ballot application, even though the application also contained the correct zip code elsewhere [thank the overzealous Republican Election Commission majority in Pulaski County for this one] — each Plaintiff was disenfranchised by the stroke of a pen, without any notice from a state or local official. These voters’ experiences demonstrate the irrationality of Defendants’ insistence that the current regime is supported by an interest in preventing fraud: each of the individual Plaintiffs is an eligible voter, who cast his or her own legitimate ballot and was nevertheless disqualified from voting—a fate that almost certainly would have been avoided if the State had provided them with an opportunity to cure the deficiency and confirm their identity.

A rational cure for a legal voter to correct a minor careless error. So simple. But it is unimportant to a legislature busy with trivia — guns and Bible verses in the name of demeaning a tiny transgender minority already prone to suicide to solve non-existent problems.

BALLOT PETITIONS

And speaking of elections: The Arkansas Supreme Court yesterday ruled that current law requiring criminal background checks for ballot petition canvassers had to be enjoined because it couldn’t be complied with. Too bad they didn’t make that common-sense decision, as they could have when striking three valid proposals from the 2020 ballot. The law requires the State Police to conduct state and federal background checks. It can’t do federal background checks.

Will the petition process be made more amenable to those seeking a constitutional right to put issues before voters? I fear not. I fear the Republican/business junta will add still more obstacles to petitions. Legislation has already been introduced to “fix” the court ruling. It requires both a State Police and FBI background check, among other requirements for canvassers. David Couch, a lawyer in the voting lawsuit and long a ballot petition activist, says this bill will make the petition process even more difficult in the future.

If that’s the only “improvement” made to ballot petition law, the people will be lucky.