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Bills advance on canvassing, voting

by Rachel Herzog | April 13, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.

Four adjustments to Arkansas laws on canvassing and voting centers advanced through a House committee on Monday.

Senate Bill 614, by Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, requires that canvassers collecting signatures for ballot initiatives be Arkansas residents and prohibits paying canvassers on a per-signature basis.

Davis said the bill aims to protect the integrity of the ballot initiative process.

"I think it's important that we have Arkansans collecting signatures," she said. "This process is meant to be a process for Arkansans."

Two people spoke against the bill: Sarai Portillo with Arkansas United and Nell Matthews with the League of Women Voters of Arkansas.

Portillo asked Davis to amend the clause requiring canvassers to be citizens to include legal permanent residents and beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy.

Matthews called SB614 "just another attempt to quash any efforts by the public to have a say in the governance of the state."

Senate Bill 486, by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, prohibits entering or remaining within a 100-foot perimeter of the entrance to a polling place while voting is taking place, except for someone who is entering or leaving the building for "lawful purposes."

"That 100-foot zone ought to be considered sacred for all purposes," Hammer said.

Loriee Evans with the voting-rights group Indivisible Little Rock and Central Arkansas said the organization opposes the bill because it puts "restrictions on the rights of good Samaritans to just say happy voting, thank you for voting" by giving a voter a bottle of water.

Two other measures sponsored by Hammer also gained the committee's support.

Senate Bill 487 would amend Arkansas code to give county election boards the final authority on where voting centers are located.

Senate Bill 488 would amend the state open-records law to exempt ballots from records that can be disclosed to the public.

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