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Committee moves voting-site bill to full Senate

by Rachel Herzog | March 31, 2021 at 4:15 a.m.

A bill that would prevent people from lingering near polling places is headed to the Arkansas Senate.

Senate Bill 486, by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, would bar people from entering or remaining in an area within 100 feet of the entrance to a voting site while voting is taking place, except for a person entering or leaving the building for "lawful purposes."

Proponents of the bill said it aims to prevent voter intimidation, electioneering activities and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, while objectors said it was overly broad and could prevent nonprofits from distributing food and water.

Hammer was joined in presenting SB486 and three other election-related bills to the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday by Kristi Stahr, chairwoman of the Pulaski County Election Commission, and former state Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock.

Stahr said she had heard multiple complaints during early voting about people offering meal tickets to voters and setting up tables blocking entrances to polling sites, and one case of a candidate giving food to poll workers.

Loriee Evans, an organizer for Indivisible Little Rock and Central Arkansas, said the voter education group believes the bill "imposes unnecessary infringements on individuals" who may be bringing water to voters waiting in long lines.

Committee member Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, said he believed the bill wouldn't prohibit people from delivering bottled water, but would prevent people from setting up food stands within 100 feet of the entrance to the voting site.

"To me that's not clearly protected," Evans said.

A committee member, Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said partisan campaigning is happening at polling places under the guise of a nonpartisan activity.

Another committee member, Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said he supports preventing voter harassment and entrance blocking, but he said the bill isn't clear enough with regard to exceptions for people remaining within 100 feet of the polling place entrance.

A divided voice vote sent SB476 to the state Senate for further consideration.

The committee also recommended Senate Bill 487, which would make establishing polling sites solely the duty of county election commissioners, and Senate Bill 488, which would amend the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to exempt ballots from records that can be disclosed to the public.

Senate Bill 485, which would do away with early voting on the last Monday before an election takes place, failed after two committee members voted against the bill.

Senate Bill 556, by Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Ferndale, which would set up a process for the state Board of Election Commissioners to take over for a county board in an emergency situation, also failed to advance from the committee Tuesday.

The votes on both SB485 and SB556 were expunged. The bills can be brought before the committee again at a later date.

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