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Agencies to draft rule on absentee-voter IDs

Provisional-ballot advice confl icts by Claudia Lauer | February 20, 2014 at 4:59 a.m.

The Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners directed staff members Wednesday to come up with an emergency rule to deal with absentee ballots under the state’s new voter-identification law.

Commission staff members will meet with the secretary of state’s staff members to draft the proposal before the board’s next meeting on Feb. 28 at 1 p.m.

An advisory opinion earlier this month from the attorney general’s office said that absentee voters who do not include adequate proof of identity with their ballot don’t have the legal authority to provide documents later to fix the problem.

“The application of these principles leads me to conclude that with the exception of certain first-time voters, the Legislature did not intend to allow an absentee voter to cast a provisional ballot if they failed to submit the required identification when casting their absentee ballot,” Deputy Attorney General Elisabeth Walker wrote in the Feb. 10 opinion requested by the Pulaski County Election Commission.

The opinion said the law approved during the 2013 legislative session did not address absentee voters in the same way it addressed voters who show up at the polls without a valid picture ID.Those people can cast “provisional ballots” and then validate their ballot with an appropriate picture ID by noon the Monday after an election.

Supporters said the law was designed to decrease the chances of vote fraud.

“We were directed to work with the staff of the secretary of state’s office as expeditiously as possible to come up with an emergency rule to deal with the situation and establish a process for counting absentee ballots that are not accompanied by the proper proof of identification,” said Justin Clay, director of the Election Commissioners Board.

“In all likelihood the rule will be to count those ballots as provisional, but we have not as of yet met with the secretary of state and I don’t have any details of what that will entail,” he added.

Alex Reed, spokesman for the secretary of state, said the staff members of both agencies will work quickly so the rule can go into effect before a series of special elections scheduled for March, including an election in Pulaski County.

The Pulaski County Election Commission asked for the opinion after the Craighead County Election Commission allowed absentee voters to present their identification at the commission’s office after a special election for state Senate District 21. That move was made on the advice of the secretary of state’s office, which had told the commission to treat all ballots without proper identification as provisional ballots in order to give everyone time to produce a valid ID.

The advice was at odds with the attorney general’s opinion issued a few weeks later. The rule will address the lack of guidance in the state statute.

Reed said the secretary of state will take the attorney general’s opinion into consideration when working on the rule. If accepted next week, the rule will go into effect immediately and later go through the administrative rules process, including a likely stop before a legislative committee.

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 02/20/2014

Print Headline: Agencies to draft rule on absentee-voter IDs


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