Pleas from county clerks, election commissioners and citizens’ groups hoping to ward off new obstacles to voting in Arkansas made little difference at the Capitol this session. As the legislative session blessedly winds down, 17 bills to make voting harder have either already passed or are still in the pipeline.
Faith leaders and elected officials will rally for voting rights Sunday. In the meantime, a coalition of citizens’ groups is going directly to Governor Hutchinson with a letter asking him to flex some muscle and consider some vetoes.
Among the bills already passed by the legislature and either already signed by the governor or awaiting his signature are:
- a ban on volunteers handing out food and water to people in line at the polls. This measure mirrors a law recently passed in Georgia.
- a power shift vesting partisan, part-time county election commissioners with supervisory control over full-time nonpartisan county election staff.
- earlier deadlines for applying for and turning in absentee ballots.
- a voter ID law that does away with the option for people without driver’s licenses or other official documentation to verify their identity with a signature. People will now have to secure an official ID or forgo their voting rights.
- a ban on paying canvassers based on the number of signatures they collect. This measure will make it harder to hire enough paid canvassers to mount citizen-led petition drives like the ones that cleared the way for a higher minimum wage and medical marijuana.
So many of the people closest to the election process in Arkansas weren’t consulted about the barrage of bills that fiddle with ballot access, signees from the League of Women Voters, Arkansas United, Disability Rights Arkansas, Arkansas First Congress, the NAACP, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and Indivisible Little Rock & Central Arkansas said.
“We are extremely concerned that we have heard from multiple county clerks and county election commissioners that they were either not consulted about any of these proposed legislative changes in the ways our elections work; or if they tried to offer input, their professional opinions and guidance were ignored,” the group wrote in a letter delivered to the governor Tuesday.
The group acknowledged that a veto might not do much, since a simple majority of lawmakers can override it. But it could send a message, they said.
“We respectfully ask for your leadership in speaking publicly against this coordinated effort to strip powers away from local communities and officials and to restrict access to the polls. Vetoing such anti-voter bills may not stop them becoming law, but such leadership will bring necessary public attention to ways in which these bills are unAmerican and whittle away voting rights in our state.”
The group was still waiting to hear back from the governor on Friday afternoon.