UPDATE: They did it! The House rejected a bid to end early voting on the Monday before Election Day.
Voting rights advocates poured into the Capitol this morning to rally and chant in protest of a zombie voter suppression bill that keeps getting killed but then comes back to life.
Senate Bill 485 shortens the window for early voting, and eliminates voting on the Monday before Election Day altogether. And it’s only one of the attacks on voting rights that lawmakers are pushing through this legislative session.
“These bills chip away at our access to the ballot,” said Kymara Seals, an organizer with Citizens First Congress. “We are speaking up and speaking out to let our state representatives know this is not OK.”
From a statement issued Monday evening:
SB485, sponsored by Senator Kim Hammer (R-Benton) died in the Senate State
Agencies Committee three times before it advanced to the Senate floor on April 22.
This morning, the bill failed to pass a fourth time in the House State Agencies
Committee, but later advanced to the House following an abrupt special meeting of the committee this afternoon [Monday].
SB485 proposes to shorten the early voting period in the state, eliminating the Monday before Election Day as an early voting option and shortening voting hours on the Saturday before Election Day. Over 51,000 Arkansans voted on this Monday in 2020.
“SB485 has been rejected every single time it has been given a fair hearing, but some lawmakers are still trying to bypass the rules to get their way,” said Arkansas Citizens First Congress Policy Director Kymara Seals. “Arkansans see through these last-ditch efforts to undermine their constitutional right to vote.”
Scott Hamilton, director for the Urban League of Arkansas, noted that 51,000 Arkansans voted on the Monday before Election Day in 2020. They will have to schedule differently next time if SB 486 sneaks through. Making it harder to vote is one strategy being used to try to hold on to the past. As demographics shift, we’re seeing fear from people who have so far held on to a disproportionate share of wealth and power, he said.
Pulaski County Election Commissioner Joshua Price said the demand for early voting is growing, so it makes no sense to cut hours and dates. Price came to the Capitol to speak against SB 485 multiple times and saw if fail multiple times. The sneaky last-minute maneuvers to push it through do not reflect the wishes of election staff and poll workers, he said. “No county clerks spoke in support of this bill. Not one,” he said. There’s no reason to eliminate the Monday before Election Day as an early voting option. “Voters like it, poll workers like it. Why are we changing it?” Price asked.
Republican Sen. Breanne Davis (R-Russellville) also spoke up for access to the ballot, making her an outlier in the Republican party. “Voting the Monday before Election Day is a convenience voters have come to rely on for almost three decades,” she said.
Arkansas ACLU, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Arkansas Education Association, Arkansas Citizens First Congress, Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus, Arkansas NAACP, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Arkansas United, Disability Rights Arkansas, For AR People, Indivisible Little Rock and Central Arkansas, and League of Women Voters of Arkansas helped organize the rally. After the short speeches in the rotunda, voting rights activists lines the stairs leading to the House gallery and chanted as lawmakers passed.
The Senate has already passed SB 485, and it’s on the House calendar for today.