U.S. signs accord on update of voter rolls, settling claims of a state lapse

'I Voted' stickers are shown in this file photo.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)
'I Voted' stickers are shown in this file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo)

The U.S. Department of Justice has signed an agreement with the state Department of Finance and Administration and the secretary of state's office to resolve claims that Arkansas didn't provide certain opportunities to update voter-registration records as required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

Under the terms of the agreement, Arkansas will ensure that all change-of-address information submitted for driver's license purposes will be used to update the driver's voter registration information, unless the driver declines the update, the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.

The finance department, which oversees driver's licenses, will offer the update option, said Kevin Niehaus, a spokesman for Secretary of State John Thurston.

Finance department spokesman Scott Hardin said the department's legal staff "pointed to the MOU [memorandum of understanding] we signed ... as containing everything we could share on this, but did not have anything additional beyond that."

Section 5 of the 1993 federal act requires states to provide voter-registration opportunities for federal elections when eligible citizens apply for or seek to review their driver's licenses or other identifying documents through state motor vehicle offices, according to the Justice Department.

That section also requires states to update voter records when registrants update the address associated with a driver's license or other identifying document, unless the registrant indicates otherwise.

An investigation by the Justice Department found that Arkansas did not comply with those update requirements.

The Justice Department stated that when residents notified motor vehicle authorities online or by mail that their addresses had changed, those methods did not serve as notification of a change of address for voter registration purposes.

"Since our founding as a republic, the right to vote has distinguished the United States from undemocratic regimes around the world. Dictators, monarchs, emperors and tyrants have no place here. We rule ourselves. One way we do so is by making sure that voter registration information is accurate," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division.

"The Civil Rights Division commends the state of Arkansas for working with the division to ensure that Arkansas's citizens have the opportunity to update their voter registration information easily and conveniently through motor vehicle agencies, as required by the National Voter Registration Act," Dreiband said in the department's news release.

According to the six-page memorandum of understanding, Arkansas was notified in a Nov. 22 letter that the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division had authorized litigation against the state and appropriate officials to enforce Section 5 (d) of the 1993 act.

Chief Deputy Secretary of State Bill Huffman and Revenue Commissioner Charlie Collins signed the agreement for the state.

Metro on 05/07/2020

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