House and Senate were debating vote suppression efforts simultaneously this afternoon. I did my best to listen to two broadcasts at once.

House

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In the House, Rep. Mark Lowery was passing a bill to make absentee voting harder, including by prohibiting the distribution of unsolicited absentee ballots. He repeated today erroneous testimony that a voting rights group had taken in absentee ballots in Pulaski County, something only the county clerk’s office may do. The clerk set up a table outside the courthouse to take absentee ballots. The voting rights group ran an effort to help people whose absentee votes had been disqualified for failure to include a photo ID and who had not signed an identity attestation to cure the ballot. Lowery has already passed legislation to prevent absentee ballot curing for errors of any sort, no matter how small and insignificant.

The House also passed Lowery’s bill to let the state Election Commission, on short notice, take over the operation of local elections. This is another bill targeting Pulaski County. Rep. Fred Love (D-Little Rock) said history will look back and see that “Arkansas did a disservice to a group of individuals.” It got the usual monolithic Republican approval though GOP Rep Joshua Bryant of Rogers cautioned the body against passing too many election laws, that it could create problems for county officers. Approach election laws like eating an elephant, he said. “One bite at a time. Not like a turd all at once.”

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Senate

Credit Sen. Kim Hammer for acknowledging in Senate debate that his bill would prohibit taking water, food or anything else within 100 feet of a poll. Only people entering or leaving the poll for lawful purposes could be there. Sen. Jason Rapert essentially argued this punitive measure was justified because water had been distributed by an activist group that, in other places, had been critical of him and other Republicans (they didn’t electioneer at pools). He’s also mad they had the effrontery to testify in his committee. Only six Democrats opposed the bill. The outcome was about the same on letting Election Commissions take control of establishing voting centers from the county clerk. Sen. Clarke Tucker noted this put decision in the hands of non-elected bodies.

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Hammer also passed a bill by a similar overwhelming vote preventing examination of absentee ballot applications until it’s too late for candidates to raise a question about irregularities. Such examination led to the curing of some absentee ballots in Pulaski County last year (as described in the House action above), to the likely detriment of one Republican who lost a close election when all absentee votes were counted.

This is what Lowery and Hammer were targeting:

Again: You can boil the flurry of voter legislation down to this: Fewer votes, particularly in the rare areas with Democratic voters. The call for “voter integrity” rings a bit hollow given the election outcomes. Are the huge Republican majorities a product of cheating?

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