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Bills creating a voter integrity unit administered by the secretary of state's office and allowing the state Board of Election Commissioners to remove a county election commissioner based on a public complaint dashed through the Arkansas Senate on Wednesday.

Two years ago, then-Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed similar bills, saying election officials and election commissioners of both parties viewed them as unwarranted attempts to undo a carefully crafted system of checks and balances and divisions of responsibility among the Board of Election Commissioners, the secretary of state and local election commissioners.

In a 33-1 vote with Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, dissenting, the Senate sent SB1013, by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, to the House.

The voter integrity unit would include the secretary of state or his designee to serve as its chairman, the attorney general or his designee, a certified investigator with the Arkansas State Police appointed by the state police director, two appointees by the state Republican Party, and two appointees from the state Democratic Party. Republican Mark Martin is secretary of state, and Republican Leslie Rutledge is attorney general.

Under the bill, the unit would review all reports of voter irregularity or fraud and render a report on the investigation to the secretary of state.

The secretary of state would be required to present the findings to the state Board of Election Commissioners within 30 days of receiving the report.

Then, the board would decide whether to dismiss the complaint, issue a letter of caution or refer the findings to a prosecuting attorney or U.S. attorney. It also would be required to report its decision on each complaint to the House and Senate Committees on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.

The legislation would allow a candidate to request a recount by the county board of election commissioners or the voter integrity unit. The unit may designate one or more people who have attended election training within 12 months before the election to perform a recount.

"This is not to punish people that are making mistakes or have problems with elections," King told senators. "The goal of this to get an independent body together ... and perform an independent analysis of the election results."

In a 27-1 vote, with Flowers dissenting again, the Senate also approved SB887 by King that would allow the state Board of Election Commissioners to investigate complaints filed against a member of a county board of elections and remove one when appropriate. The bill goes to the House.

"If you have an election commissioner that is possibly doing something unethical or not up to the job ... somebody has to complain [and] can make that complaint to the state Board of Election Commissioners" under the bill, King said.

The state board would be required to file a copy of each complaint with the House and Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committees or the Legislative Council within 10 days of receiving it.

The state board would have to set a hearing before determining whether removal of an election commissioner is appropriate.

Metro on 03/26/2015

Print Headline: Senate approves voter integrity unit creation

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