Some scrutiny of voters' IDs went too far

County aims to better train poll workers by November

Pulaski County Election Director Bryan Poe and his staff will review their training procedures after reports of poll workers incorrectly interpreting new voter-identification requirements during this week's primary elections, Poe said Thursday.

Recently passed legislative Act 593 requires Arkansas voters to present photo identification at the polls, but that ID is to be used only to verify name and and likeness to the photo. According to anecdotal accounts passed on by voters after Tuesday's primary elections, some poll workers were instead checking the address listed on the ID against what was written next to the voter's name in the poll book.

"I was not pleased with these reports, and we are going to re-examine our training practices and see what we are going to do to improve those," Poe said.

The 817 poll workers, who each received two hours of training before Tuesday's election, were instructed to ask the voter to state his name, address and date of birth and then check that information against what is printed in the poll book created from information listed on voters' registration cards. After that information has been confirmed, workers are supposed to ask for proof of ID.

Poe said at the Pulaski County Election Commission's regular meeting Thursday that he will wait until after the June 10 runoff election between Republican candidates for attorney general to re-evaluate training procedures for the November general election.

It's unknown how widespread the procedural troubles were Tuesday or whether the same problems arose in other counties, Poe said. He added that there's no good way to gauge how often or how many Pulaski County poll workers didn't follow the law.

"At this point, I feel we've done just about all we can do in terms of training and instruction and providing procedures and materials for them," he said. "If this is happening, basically what we will have to do is identify the polls and contact these people specifically and go over it with them again. Because it's just beyond me how this is happening."

Assistant Election Director Shawn Camp, who is responsible for training, told the commission that the procedural problems reported by media outlets this week were covered "extensively" during training.

"In fact, I go through and make the point that no information on any ID is of any value except the name and the photograph. They are not to use the address," Camp said. "I remind them that they are not there to be a judge of the truth; they are there to accept what the voter says," compared with the information in the poll book.

In all, there were 25 in-person provisional ballots recommended for rejection because of identifications were inadequate or lacking out of about 39,400 in-person ballots.

Anyone who had to fill out a provisional ballot because they didn't present an ID has until noon Tuesday to take identification to the Pulaski County clerk's office to have his vote accepted. Or that person can go to the clerk's office to sign an affidavit swearing that he has no photo because of indigence or a religious objection to being photographed and have his vote counted that way.

Regarding absentee ballots, 62 out of 636 cast for this year's primary elections were rejected because no identification was provided. Those individuals are not afforded the opportunity to submit identification after the fact.

In the past, absentee voters were never informed whether their ballots were accepted. Commissioner John Parke suggested Thursday that staff begin issuing letters to let the voters know.

"If I do something wrong and don't know it, how am I going to change my behavior?" he asked.

Chairman Leonard Boyle Sr. added: "I think that would give the voter the opportunity to correct those things on their end. I know that's adding work for you guys, but at the same time I think it's very important to do this for the electorate because we are here to serve them."

Commissioner Chris Burks was most outspoken about the ID issues at Thursday's meeting. He debated whether the number of rejected ballots were caused by voter errors or by poll-worker errors.

"I'm very concerned about people that for whatever reason aren't following the law," he said. "What can we do as a commission to get that error rate down?"

He later noted that the rate of missing identification among absentee ballots was significantly higher than in-person voting.

Poe said that during the special election in March regarding a millage for Pulaski Technical College, 76 of about 300 absentee ballots were rejected. "So it's getting a little better," he said.

All of the 79 provisional in-person ballots were given a preliminary review at Thursday's meeting. The commission will make a final decision on whether to accept those ballots at a meeting next week after the 25 voters rejected because of identification problems, who are among the 79, have an opportunity to submit the required ID before noon Tuesday. Two so far have done so, Poe said.

The other ballots recommended for rejection dealt with various problems such as signatures not matching and double votes.

Metro on 05/23/2014