2 election-change bills get go-ahead from Senate panel

"I Voted" stickers sit on a table, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, at the Cambridge City Hall annex, on the first morning of early voting in Massachusetts. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Two bills that would increase the authority of the state election board and of county election boards advanced from the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 498 by Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Ferndale, would require that complaints made to county election boards about alleged election law violations or irregularities be sent to the state Board of Election Commissioners for evaluation, rather than to the county clerk and prosecuting attorney.

"They are the appropriate ones and since the county clerk and the prosecuting attorney are actually elected officials they have potential conflicts of interest in doing so," Johnson said.

A committee member, Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said that, as with other election bills under consideration this legislative session, he was concerned that elected officials, who are accountable directly to voters, were being removed from the complaint process.

Johnson replied that state board members are appointed by elected officials.

"The state board is diverse, it has diverse appointees, and they represent these different points of view," Johnson said.

Senate Bill 557, also sponsored by Johnson, would give county election boards the power to supervise all election officials and states that county employees detailed as election officials shall comply with the county board's directives in election matters.

Johnson said county clerks and election commissioners work together "hand in glove" in almost every instance, but the relationship needed to be clarified because it is the commission's responsibility to put on elections under current law.

Johnson said both bills codify general practice in the state.

Earlier Tuesday, a voting rights rally hosted by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas drew about 50 people to the steps of the state Capitol. Speakers railed against SB487, which would strip county clerks of their ability to designate voting centers, and Senate Bill 556, which would allow the state Board of Election Commissioners to take over local elections, two other bills sponsored by Johnson.

SB487 has been sent to the House, while SB556 failed to advance from a Senate committee last week.

Harvey Joe Sanner, a Democratic election commissioner from Prairie County, called Republican assertions of fraud in the 2020 elections "the big lie."

"There never was voter fraud. It's all been a campaign to cause chaos and turmoil," Sanner said.