Rep. Mark Lowery and former Rep. Doug House, who’ve been spear-carriers along with Sen. Kim Hammer in the Republican Party push for vote suppression legislation have played fast and loose with facts about Pulaski County voting in 2020 to back their arguments.
No vote fraud was found. No one was improperly denied office. Several legal voters had uncounted ballots because of shoddy work by the Republican-controlled election commission. Other problems emerged because of the personality dispute between the Republican election commissioners and the county elections staff. Some mistakes were made — regrettable although neither unusual nor altogether unforgivable in a chaotic pandemic year. But still, the Republicans hint at fraud and use the well-publicized problems in Pulaski to help support the implication that something much darker was at work. This, of course, is intended to ease the passage of their legislation, much of it clearly targeting Pulaski County.
That’s one thing. But inaccurate testimony before the committee is another. I mentioned this yesterday when Lowery and House testified before a House committee that approved a couple more of their punitive bills. House said he was sure a voter support group had accepted absentee ballots at the courthouse when only employees of the clerk’s office could do this.
I believe House was mistaken in what he thinks he saw. Or else he is simply not telling the truth. For AR People, a voter activist group had examined the list of absentee ballots set aside for failure to include photo ID or to sign the alternate sworn statement. Such ballots could be “cured” by the presentation of an ID. For AR People set up a table at the courthouse to help people bringing IDs to qualify their ballots. They opened no ballots. The county clerk also set up a station, with an office employee, to accept drive-by ballot dropoffs.
For the record, here’s what For AR People said about the Lowery/House testimony:
Today #arleg members approved a barrage of voter suppression bills.
For AR People was disappointed to see lawmakers lie from the the House and Senate floors, making false statements about hardworking Arkansans who volunteered to help cure flagged ballots last fall. #arpx (1/4)
— For AR People (@ForARPeople1) April 2, 2021
And from that thread, here’s County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth’s response to the testimony. She says Lowery and House lied. She has been targeted by county Republicans since before the election and is the target of several pieces of legislation limiting clerk involvement in the election process.
These would not be the only lies that have been told in the rush to reinstitute the systematic vote suppression of Jim Crow days in Arkansas. The voter integrity theme being used as a cover has not yet been supported by any meaningful evidence that wrongdoing occurred. Except that Republicans think it’s wrong for people with progressive politics, such as For AR People, to encourage voting or even be allowed to testify at the legislature without rude commentary from the likes of Doug House and Sen. Jason Rapert. A demonstration of factual problems would be another matter.
And, again: Are House and Lowery saying the election that produced an even bigger Republican majority in Arkansas was corrupt? Or only in the case of those few elections won by Democrats?
Here’s what’s happening:
Lowery legislation has eliminated a cure for absentee ballots in which voters forget to include the required photo ID
A sworn statement is no longer is sufficient.
A signature match — which Lowery himself said was unreliable in arguing for a photo ID requirement — is STILL required for acceptance of absentee ballots.
Another Republican bill will prevent groups from reviewing absentee ballot applications that have been rejected until after the election is decided when it is too late to do anything about election commission errors.
Another Republican bill will allow spurious complaints — such as those repeated by House and Lowery this week — to be made to the Republican-controlled state board of election commissioners. The state body then could take over a local election, including directing the hiring of any additional personnel to bypass local employees or incur other expenses and then send the bill to the county judge. This is protected by special language grafted into an appropriations bill by Sen. Mark Johnson, in the time-honored tradition of underhanded secret misuse of the appropriation process.
Another bill prevents do-gooders from taking water bottles to people standing in long lines within 100 feet of the polls. And Sen. Cecile Bledsoe said people like Indivisible Arkansas shouldn’t wear T-shirts for their organization even outside the election zone. Might give people the wrong idea, she suggested. Progressive politics are not to be allowed to show its face in public, even if not electioneering for a candidate. Voting is too liberal for Republicans in certain precincts.
Those voter lines could grow much longer if the Republican election commissions, put in charge of precincts and voting centers under another piece of legislation, decide to close neighborhood polls in favor of voting centers that handle multiple precincts.
There’s more. But you get the picture. This bill avalanche isn’t about election integrity. It’s about strategies to reduce the vote, particularly in Democratic areas.
Arkansas is not alone, but it’s in the vanguard.
The Texas Senate passed a voter suppression bill early this morning, targeting working Texans, communities of color… and when added to voter suppression bills in Georgia and 41 other states, is part of the single largest coordinated attack on democracy in America since 1965.
— Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) April 1, 2021
See the country as a whole:
Stunning new data from @brennancenter: 361 bills to restrict voting rights introduced in 47 states as of March 24
That’s up from 253 restrictive bills as of Feb 19, a 43% increase in a month
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) April 1, 2021
If you can’t win the vote, suppress the vote. It’s simple.