Senate rejects election board's shift to secretary of state

The Senate on Wednesday rejected legislation that would transfer the state Board of Election Commissioners into the secretary of state's office.

With a dozen senators not voting, Senate Bill 368 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, failed 7-15.

The vote came after King made a pitch for the bill and no senator spoke against it.

The Senate later expunged the initial vote on the bill to open the door for King to ask for another.

King told senators that melding the board into the secretary of state's office would make state government more efficient and save money.

"We need to look at efficiencies," King said. He pointed to the state's net general revenue available to agencies; that revenue is $57 million less than the collections forecast for the first seven months of fiscal 2017, which ends June 30.

He said there are "a lot of political appointee jobs" to the elections board that the Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin's office could handle. King also said the secretary of state's office "is the face of Arkansas elections."

The board wouldn't lose its independence under his legislation, King said.

Afterward, Senate Republican leader Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs said he voted against the legislation after hearing from a Benton County election commissioner in his district, who felt the legislation would remove the independence of the state board.

Senate Democratic leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis said he voted against the legislation because he doesn't believe the merger will realize the approximately $10 million in savings that Martin's chief deputy, Kelly Boyd, has projected.

Ingram said he also received a call from a Crittenden County election commissioner, who worried the state board's independence would be compromised under the legislation.

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 SB368.

But the board no longer would be allowed to appoint a director who could hire employees.

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's chairman is Martin and is 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 Republican Party, the Senate president pro tempore and the House speaker.

Boyd told a Senate committee on Tuesday that the bill would save more than $600,000 a year in maintenance and operations funding and save $10.6 million in spending authority and expenses over the biennium. The board is allowed up to seven employees and also is appropriated money for election expenses.

But Stuart Soffer, a Republican from White Hall who serves on the state board, called Boyd's figures "apples to oranges, fake numbers and fuzzy math." He said that there is no redundancy between the board and the secretary of state.

A Section on 03/02/2017

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