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Clerk knocks Rutledge off roll of voters

Attorney general hopeful: Will fight disqualification by Spencer Willems | October 1, 2014 at 4:12 a.m.
Leslie Rutledge, Republican nominee in the race for Arkansas attorney General, speaks at the Republican Party of Arkansas state convention in Hot Springs, Ark., Saturday, July 19, 2014.

The Republican candidate for attorney general is no longer registered to vote in the state of Arkansas.

Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane canceled the voter registration of Leslie Rutledge late Tuesday afternoon after his office found that Rutledge, of Little Rock, is currently registered to vote in Washington, D.C.

Arkansas Annotated Code 7-1-104 states that "no person shall vote in any election in the state unless the person is a qualified elector of this state and has registered to vote in a manner provided by law."

Such a violation, according to the code, is a felony.

The Arkansas Constitution also states that political candidates must be registered to vote in order to be elected or appointed to public office.

Crane's office began inquiries into Rutledge's registration history late last week and, after confirming that she was registered to vote in the nation's capital, albeit as an "inactive" voter, Crane said he was compelled by the Arkansas Constitution to cancel Rutledge's status as a registered Arkansas voter.

"We have canceled her registration and put a letter in the mail to her. The county attorney has spoken with her," Crane said. "All I can do is cancel it as of right now. Someone else will have to figure out if it has retroactive effect at all. I know the votes [she cast] won't be taken off."

Crane said Rutledge also appeared to also be registered to vote in Virginia but was unable to confirm that. City of Alexandria General Registrar Anna Leider confirmed that Rutledge was an "inactive" registered voter in the Washington, D.C., suburb.

Rutledge, who worked as a legal aide to Gov. Mike Huckabee before joining his 2008 presidential campaign, plans to fight Crane's decision.

Her campaign manager, Wes Manus, said Crane, a Democrat, "has displayed a total lack of integrity by using desperate Chicago-style, partisan politics to attempt to steal this election."

"Leslie Rutledge will vigorously defend her status as a qualified, registered voter in Pulaski County, Arkansas," Manus said in a statement released late Tuesday.

"If the policy of the Democrat County Clerk of Pulaski County is to arbitrarily cancel the voter registration of qualified voters, then his office should be investigated for legal and ethical misconduct of state law and federal voting rights laws including the National Voter Rights Act which states that he has no legal authority to remove voters from the rolls within 90 days of a Federal Election," Manus said.

The federal law limits the ability of election officials to remove people from the voter rolls in the days leading up to an election.

Calls to secretary of state's office spokesman Laura Labay were not returned Tuesday. On Monday, Labay said, "You can't be registered in two states."

Head of the State Board of Election Commissioners, Justin Clay, was not available for comment Tuesday. The board's attorney, Tim Humphries, did not return a call Tuesday night.

Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, wrote in an email that McDaniel's office "has no role in this matter currently, but we will represent our state clients should constitutional questions arise."

According to the State Board of Election Commissioners' 2014 publication Running for Public Office: A 'Plain English' Handbook for Candidates, a candidate for the office of attorney general must be an Arkansas resident, a qualified elector and lawfully registered to vote.

To be eligible to be a "qualified elector," the Arkansas resident and U.S. citizen must be lawfully registered to vote, according to Article 3, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution.

Section 11 of Amendment 51, which Crane cited Tuesday, says that Crane's office "shall" cancel registration if an elector has changed his address outside the county and/or if that person is not a lawfully "qualified elector" in the state.

Rutledge registered to vote in Pulaski County in August 2006 after a decade as a registered Democrat in Independence County.

According to documents verified by Crane's office, she registered to vote in Washington, D.C., in July 2008.

But in Pulaski County, she remained on the county rolls as a registered voter and she went on to vote absentee in the November 2008 general election.

Election records indicate that Rutledge indicated she was "unavoidably absent" as her reason for absentee voting.

Rutledge never voted in D.C. elections, according to Crane's office, and in September 2010, she registered to vote with the general registrar in Alexandria, Va.

It was unclear whether she voted while living in Virginia because voter participation is not public without the voter's consent.

Anna Leider, the general registrar of Alexandria, confirmed that Rutledge is still a registered voter in her city as of late last week, though Rutledge is listed as "inactive."

"We have an indication she moved [from her registration address] but no indication of where," Leider said. "She could vote [in Virginia]. But she would have to update her registration and do some other paperwork."

Crane said he didn't believe that the secretary of state's office, which oversees state elections and voter registration, ever received any information from Washington, D.C., or Virginia that would trigger it to remove Rutledge from state rolls.

Upon her return to Arkansas, instead of registering to vote, Rutledge submitted a change of address form and did not indicate she was registered elsewhere, Crane said.

That change in address, Crane said, updated her old Arkansas address and replaced it with her most recent one.

Upon her return to Arkansas, Rutledge voted in a special December 2013 election in Little Rock.

She filed to run to replace McDaniel in February.

She voted early in three more elections in 2014, including the May 20 primary and the June 10 runoff, where she defeated attorney David Sterling to win the Republican nomination.

Last week, a group claiming to be the Arkansas Libertarian Coalition started circulating information that Rutledge was ineligible to vote or hold office because of her multiple voter registrations.

"Rutledge is NOT a Qualified Elector under the Arkansas Constitution. A person cannot vote as a 'qualified elector' in Arkansas if not legally registered," the media release said. "She wants to be the state's lawyer? Clearly she isn't much for paying attention to detail."

Officials with the Libertarian Party of Arkansas said they'd never heard of the organization prior to Monday and didn't know if it exists.

The mailer included no names or phone numbers.

"They've never reached out to me or anyone else in the party I've talked to, dozens of people," said party Chairman Jessica Paxton. "We don't know who started it, who's in it, I know nothing."

Paxton said that none of the dozens of party activists she spoke to about the organization knew anyone affiliated with the coalition. The Libertarian candidate for attorney general, Aaron Cash, also said he was unfamiliar with the group.

When reached for comment Tuesday night, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, Lizzy Price, said the state party had no knowledge of the "coalition" and offered a brief statement:

"Last year, the Republican Party created a faulty voter ID law which has since made it harder for seniors and other eligible voters to exercise their most sacred right as Americans -- their right to vote," Price wrote. "Who would have thought that the voting eligibility of the Republican Party of Arkansas's own candidate for the state's lead attorney, Leslie Rutledge, would be something they would have to worry about?"

When asked whether Rutledge broke the law by casting an absentee ballot while registered in both Arkansas and Washington, Pulaski County prosecuting attorney's office spokesman John Johnson said he couldn't comment.

Crane said that Rutledge could return to his office and register to vote but repeated that he didn't know what bearing, if any, her subsequent registrations in other states could have on her current campaign hopes.

Metro on 10/01/2014

Print Headline: Clerk knocks Rutledge off roll of voters

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