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Arkansas bills targeting election rules and absentee voting, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette , Nyssa Kruse | April 7, 2021 at 11:14 a.m.
Rep. Mark Lowery addresses the House on Thursday. The House approved his House Bill 1715 to tighten rules on absentee ballots. The Senate, meanwhile, passed Senate Bill 486 by Sen. Kim Hammer regarding “safety zones” around polling places. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

This story is a part of The Article, your guide to Arkansas news and culture, presented by the Democrat-Gazette. Sign up for The Article's twice-weekly newsletter here or to see stories that have appeared in past newsletters, go here.

Several bills aimed at changing rules for Arkansas elections are moving through the Legislature. Proponents say they promote election integrity while opponents have likened them to Jim Crow laws.

What do each of the bills intend to do?

House Bill 1715 would:

Ban the distribution of unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters by designated election officials

• Make the possession of more than four absentee ballots by one person a rebuttable presumption of intent to defraud

• Require that signatures on absentee ballots be compared with signatures on voters' original registration certificates

House Bill 1803 would:

• Give the state Board of Election Commissioners the authority to institute corrective actions in response to complaints

Expand the types of violations about which county election boards can make complaints

Senate Bill 486 would:

Bar people from entering or remaining within 100 feet of the entrance to a voting site except for a person entering or leaving the building for "lawful purposes"

Prohibit people from camping out with tables and providing food and/or drinks to voters in the 100-foot area

What did representatives say about the House bills?

"These are necessary reforms to make sure that we have fair and equitable elections," said Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, who sponsored the House bills.

Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock, spoke against HB1803, arguing that the bills use the "Jim Crow handbook" to prevent people from voting.

What did senators say about the Senate bill?

Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said that in the past election, "I saw nonpartisan people campaign directly in line multiple times under the guise of doing it" for voter education.

Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said he supports preventing voters from being harassed, but the bill's language is overly broad. For example, the police would not be allowed within that 100-foot zone, he said.

Have there been instances of election fraud in Arkansas?

Three instances of voter fraud have been documented in Arkansas since 2002, according to a database from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Pulaski County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth also said legislators’ claims that a nonprofit group assisted in "curing" ballots in Pulaski County — reaching out to voters whose ballots had missing photo ID copies or signatures in order to fix them so they could be counted — were untrue.

She also said in a written statement all requests for absentee ballots passed verification before absentee ballots were sent to the voters who requested them.

Read more from reporter Michael Wickline to learn more about each of the bills and what legislators have said about them.

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