As a stack of vote suppression measures heads to Governor Hutchinson’s desk, Republicans are also fighting the rare bill to improve voting in Arkansas.
The Senate State Agencies Committee this morning couldn’t muster five votes to endorse SB 701 by Sen. Clarke Tucker to clarify absentee voting procedures.
It’s a lengthy bill, but the key element allows an absentee voter to “cure” a ballot submitted without the photo ID newly required of all absentee voters. No cure is possible for any reason under the new law. The bill would provide for election commissions to notify voters whose ballots had been set aside as provisional so they may resolve discrepancies or failure to include a photo ID.
Tucker amended the bill extensively this morning to deal with most questions raised by Sen. Kim Hammer, the Benton Republican who’s sponsored many of the Republican measures aiming to make voting harder and/or give more power over voting to partisan-controlled county and state election commissions.
The primary witness against the bill was Kristi Stahr, chair of the Pulaski County Election Commission, who raised several technical questions about the bill, several erroneous. She particularly objected to the repeal of the loosely observed end of absentee ballot counting at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. As it stood in 2020, the Pulaski commission had 11 hours to count 24,000 ballots. It wasn’t nearly enough. Tucker noted that counting of in-person votes doesn’t end at 7:30. Voters may stand in line as long as it takes to vote, even hours after poll closing. Stahr made no comment pro or con about curing absentee ballots or the procedures outlined in the law to provide a means for the Republican-controlled state Board of Election Commissioners to adopt rules over handling of absentee ballots to prevent problems that cropped up with boxes of ballots in Pulaski County. Among other points on which she was off base, Stahr suggested the bill would give the power to poll workers over the Election Commission in deciding which ballots would be counted. The language proposed by Tucker in his amendment, which he read to Stahr, clearly left that power to the Commission. She also objected to the provision that said cases of suspected fraud should be referred to both a prosecuting attorney and the state Board of Election Commissioners. Republicans have cut out the prosecutor, leaving investigations to the legislature and the state board, both Republican-controlled. Tucker said it only made sense to also provide suspected evidence of a criminal offense to the office that would be responsible for prosecuting.
Tucker said he has Republican allies and hopes to get another shot at preserving an ability for absentee voters to cure ballot problems, a legal right deprived them by recent Republican legislation. Tucker’s bill would allow a voter to provide a photo ID by noon Monday following an election for an absentee vote to be counted. As the new law now stands, a failure to put an ID in the envelope means automatic rejection of the ballot. In-person voters can cure the failure to bring an ID to the poll by presenting one by the Monday following the election.
Republicans nationwide are trying to make absentee voting harder under the belief that absentee voters trend toward Democratic. That was the case in close elections in Pulaski County this year, one of which was won by a Democrat, to the immense displeasure of Pulaski County Republicans