Northwest Arkansas election officials craft legislative agenda

FAYETTEVILLE -- Voter identification laws and voter registration came under fire Thursday when election officials from Northwest Arkansas discussed legislation they might want to see enacted next year by the state Legislature.

Election commissioners, election cooordinators and county clerks meet periodically.

State Legislature

The General Assembly of the Arkansas Legislature will convene Jan. 14. Bill filing for the session began Nov. 15.

Source: State of Arkansas

"We discuss common problems, issues that have come up during the most recent election cycle that are not always covered by state laws or regulations," said Bill Ackerman, chairman of the Washington County Election Commission. "These are things we've experienced in the voting process that we're coming up with solutions that are realistic and beneficial to the voters."

One of the problems discussed Thursday was a failure of the state system allowing people to register to vote when they renew their driver's licenses.

Jennifer Price, Washington County's election coordinator, said she and her staff encountered a number of voters who went through the process but their voter registration information never reached the county, making them ineligible to vote. When Price asked who else had seen that problem, most of the hands in the room shot up.

Jon Davidson, with the state Board of Election Commissioners, said the information gathered from the driver's license process is supposed to be sent to the state Department of Finance and Administration in Little Rock, which should then send it to the individual county clerks.

"What happens when you sign up at the DMV and nothing happens after that?" Ackerman asked.

Edwards said people don't actually register to vote at the DMV offices, they only "sign up" to register and the individuals are given cards instructing them it's their responsibility to check with the clerk's office in their county to ensure the registration process is completed.

Ackerman said he'll ask area legislators to sponsor a bill addressing the problem. He said he has been told legislation is being proposed to automatically register people as voters when they renew their vehicle registration.

"It's a very inefficient way of registering people to vote," Ackerman said.

The state's voter ID law also drew questions. Election officials from several counties said they had to turn away voters with identification that isn't accepted.

The state law apparently doesn't allow out-of-state driver's licenses, which Price said many University of Arkansas students have. A Sebastian County election official said tribal identification cards also aren't accepted. Betsy Harrell, Benton County Clerk-elect, said many people don't understand the requirements and some don't want to take the time to get an acceptable identification.

Davidson and Dan Shults, legal counsel with the state Board of Election Commissioners, briefed the gathering about proposed changes to state election laws ranging from filing dates to election notice procedures to poll worker training.

Kim Dennison, Benton County Election coordinator, said the changes mostly will smooth out the election process.

"It's language and process that needs to be cleaned up," Dennison said.

John Thurston, secretary of state-elect, told the group his office will work with them during the legislative session to monitor election-related bills.

"That way we can, in a timely fashion, give input, head things off, or give support to pending legislation," Thurston said.

NW News on 12/14/2018

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