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Arkansas House passes bill codifying Election Integrity Unit

by Will Langhorne | April 4, 2023 at 4:37 a.m.
Arkansas Representative Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville, introduces HB1513, which would create an election integrity unit in the Attorney General's office, during a meeting of the House of Representatives on Monday, April 3, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

The Arkansas House on Monday passed a bill that would require the state attorney general to establish and maintain an Election Integrity Unit.

House Bill 1513, which also would permit the attorney general to file civil suits for election-related offenses, received a vote of 83-9. The measure, which has the support of Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin and 58 co-sponsors in the House, moves to the Senate for further action.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville, said the legislation would codify the Election Integrity Unit, which Griffin has established already, and create a civil cause of action for the attorney general based on already existing criminal violations.

"The idea is to give a collateral attack here with a lower burden of proof," McCollum told House members.

HB1513 would allow the attorney general to bring civil action against a person or entity believed to be "engaging, has engaged, or is about to engage in any act or practice declared unlawful" under state election laws.

"Adding a civil action with monetary damages gives me an additional tool to ensure compliance with election law," Griffin said in an emailed statement provided by a spokesperson Monday. "This is especially important because our prisons and jails are full, and monetary damages can be effective at deterring illegal behavior."

Under the bill, the Election Integrity Unit would be required to track all alleged violations, complaints and investigations related to election integrity in a database. The secretary of state and the State Board of Election Commissioners would have secure access to the database.

The secretary of state's office is also supportive of the bill, said Jaime Land, spokeswoman for Secretary of State John Thurston, in a written statement Monday.

The Election Integrity Unit under the bill also would oversee the attorney general's election law violations hotline.

The group would have to respond to notifications and complaints regarding alleged violations of voter registration and election laws and refer notifications and complaints to the State Board of Election Commissioners for investigation. The integrity unit also could receive sworn statements and issue subpoenas to compel the production of records and other documents.

The bill would require the State Board of Election Commissioners to provide yearly reports to lawmakers, the attorney general and the governor on closed election integrity investigations.

If during an investigation the board determines there may be a criminal violation of voter registration or election laws, the panel would be permitted under the bill to turn the findings over to the "appropriate prosecutorial agency for criminal prosecution."

A prosecuting attorney would be allowed to designate an attorney employed by the attorney general's office as a special deputy prosecutor to prosecute charges.

Last month, Griffin announced the creation of the Election Integrity Unit that would operate under his office's Special Investigations Division with Wayne Bewley, chief of investigations, serving as its director. The unit will operate using existing staff and will require no additional resources, according to a news release.

Print Headline: Election Integrity Unit bill receives House nod


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