House committee favors 2 measures on elections

Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, asks a question during the Education Caucus of the Arkansas General Assembly's meeting on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, at the Association of Arkansas Counties building in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

A House committee on Wednesday advanced bills that would tighten restrictions around absentee ballots and increase the authority of state and county boards of elections.

House Bill 1715 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, would ban the distribution of unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters by designated elected officials and would make the possession of more than four absentee ballots by one person a rebuttable presumption of intent to defraud.

House Bill 1803, also by Lowery, would give the state Board of Election Commissioners the authority to institute corrective actions in response to complaints and would expand the types of violations about which county election boards can make complaints.

Lowery was joined in presenting the bills to the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs by Deputy Attorney General Doug House.

During the 2020 election, the absentee ballots of several hundred Pulaski County voters were set aside because of missing photo ID copies or signatures.

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The nonprofit group For AR People assisted with efforts to reach voters to fix, or "cure," their ballots so they could be counted.

The nonpartisan group worked with the Pulaski County clerk's office to set up a drive-up tent outside the courthouse.

House said the group didn't have any oversight.

HB1715 would also require that signatures on absentee ballots be compared to the signatures on the voters' original registration certificates.

Regarding HB1803, House said the bill was the best way to take care of problems in elections without having to turn them over to the federal government.

"Frankly, many times fraud is not counted or tabulated unless there's a prosecution," Lowery said.

Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, said he voted against both bills, calling them "a piece of a voter suppression puzzle."

"The reason why you don't mention fraud is because there's no fraud involved. ... There's been irregularities in all elections, and so these laws don't change anything except you're trying to suppress the vote," Love said.