State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Terry Rice
March 17, 2023
LITTLE ROCK – The legislature has advanced a long list of bills to prevent voter fraud and protect the integrity of elections.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed HB 1510 to schedule all special elections on the same date as traditional primary elections in May and general elections in November. A motivation of the sponsors is to prevent local officials from holding a special election for a tax increase on a date when few people will know about and go to the polls.
In presidential election years, Arkansas primary elections are in March and that is when special elections could be held.
SB 250, which affects counties that choose to use paper ballots, has been sent to the governor. It requires those counties to use paper ballots that are compatible with the vote counting machines of the Secretary of State, and it requires the county to pay the costs of printing and counting the ballots.
SB 254 eliminates write-in candidates in state elections. It has been sent to the governor.
SB 255, which has been sent to the governor, prohibits state and local election officials from accepting any gifts, services, products or anything of value from any source other than the government entity that employs them. A goal is to prohibit social media, consultants, political parties and strategists from paying for any election expenses.
SB 258 prohibits the use of drop boxes for collecting absentee ballots. All absentee ballots that are not delivered by mail must be hand delivered inside the county clerk’s office. SB 258 has passed in both chambers and is on the governor’s desk.
Already in law is Act 236, which affects citizens’ groups trying to place an issue on statewide ballots. They will have to gather signatures of registered voters from at least 50 counties. That is an increase from at least 15 counties.
SB 377, which has been advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would make it a crime to destroy signatures gathered on petitions to place an issue on the ballot.
The bill was prompted by incidents that occurred when competing casino interests paid or harassed canvassers.
HB 1513 creates an Election Integrity Unit with the state Attorney General’s office. It is in the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.
The Senate has passed SB 272 to require more audits of elections by the state Board of Election Commissioners.
In odd-numbered years an election audit will be performed in 15 to 20 counties, randomly selected. The Board can order an audit in response to complaints of election fraud, and the legislature’s Joint Performance Review Committee can designate a county to be audited.
Act 194 authorizes the state Attorney General to review ballot titles and popular names of proposed amendments and initiatives. For many years the Attorney General reviewed ballot titles, but in 2019 the legislature transferred that authority to the Board of Election Commissioners.
Last year, in a decision on a proposed ballot issue to legalize recreational marijuana, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Election Commissioners had no authority to approve ballot titles.
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