Bill assigns election board to secretary of state

The state Board of Election Commissioners would be shifted to the secretary of state's office under legislation that cleared an Arkansas Senate committee on Tuesday.

The board would be under the direction and supervision of the secretary of state's office but would exercise its powers, duties and functions independently of the office under Senate Bill 368 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest. The board would no longer be allowed to appoint a director, who could hire staff.

The board's mission is to improve the conduct of elections by promoting fair and orderly procedures through education, assistance and monitoring, according to the board's website. The board is chaired by Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin and composed of six other members -- two appointed by the governor and one each appointed by the chairman of the state Democratic Party, the chairman of the state Republican Party, the Senate president pro tempore and the House speaker.

King told the Senate Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee that his bill would make state government more efficient by saving money while still getting the election duties executed.

He said some critics of his legislation claim that Martin is a partisan, "but he's elected by the people of the state of Arkansas," and King noted that Martin received more votes than any statewide officeholder in the 2014 election.

Kelly Boyd, chief deputy for the secretary of state, said King's legislation is an "efficiency bill" under which the office would assume the administrative role for the board.

Martin would remain board chairman, but the board would operate independently, Boyd said.

Boyd said the bill would save more than $600,000 a year in maintenance and operations funding. He also said the bill would save a total of $10.6 million over the biennium. The board is allowed up to seven employees and is also appropriated money for election expenses.

Stuart "Stu" Soffer, a Republican from White Hall who serves on the board, told the Senate committee that "what you just heard was apples to oranges, fake numbers and fuzzy math."

"There is no $10 million in savings," he said, and there is no redundancy between the board and the secretary of state.

"As far as the secretary of state being chairman of the state Board of Election Commissioners, the secretary of state in person has been a no-show for two years and the deputy secretary of state [A.J. Kelly] has showed up at every state board meeting," Soffer said.

Afterward, Martin declined to comment about Soffer's criticism.

Soffer told the Senate committee the legislation would change the board from being a nonpartisan oversight board to an advisory group.

"What this is about is the secretary of state getting control of the money used to reimburse every one of the counties for state-run elections," Soffer said.

A Section on 03/01/2017

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