protect our vote Brian Chilson

A House committee passed yet another attack on free and fair elections Monday, voting up a bill that would make it a crime to give water and snacks to Arkansans in line to vote. The law is similar to one that drew national attention when passed in Georgia last month.

Senate Bill 486 by Sen. Ken Hammer (R-Benton) targets the volunteer groups of young people who traveled among polling places last November with boxes of bottled water and chips. Hammer said candidates cannot go within 100 feet of polling locations, and other groups shouldn’t be allowed to, either. He suggested t-shirts worn by these refreshment fairies might be political in nature and aimed at influencing votes.

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Loriee Evans of the voting rights group Indivisible said SB 486 is one of at least 14 bills in Arkansas this session aimed at chipping away our voting rights.

“SB486 is more government bureaucracy, piling rules on top of laws that are already working,” Evans told members of the House State Agencies and Government Affairs Committee. “SB486 restricts the rights of good Samaritans to simply be in a public space and offer water bottles to older voters or to those standing in long hot lines. It says to Arkansans, ‘We don’t trust you to exercise your freedoms responsibly, so we’re going to take that right away from you.’ ”

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SB486 is only one of many bills currently making their way through the state legislature that will make voting harder for an untold number of Arkansans. The bills will disproportionately affect vulnerable Arkansans, including Black & brown Arkansans, rural communities, elderly, people with disabilities, and those with limited transportation, Evans said.

Other bills targeting voting rights in Arkansas include:

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  • SB 485 to eliminate the super-popular Monday before Election Day as an early voting day.

  • SB 556 to allow the takeover of Arkansas election in cities of populations over 50,000 by the state Election Commission for undefined emergency reasons.

  • SB 557 to transfer supervision of elections from full-time, trained county employees to partisan, part-time election commissioners.

  • SB 644 to establish a legislative committee with investigative powers into local elections, and further shifts authority from local officials to state legislators with a personal stake in the election outcomes.

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  • HB 1112, now Act 249, that eliminates the voter ID verification statement option for voting, for those without current photo ID.

The state Senate already approved the ban on giving water out to voters. The bill will next go up for approval before the House.