Voters in the March 5 preferential primary and general nonpartisan judicial elections will be subjected to numerous changes in Arkansas election law which came about during the General Assembly’s regular session in 2023.
Early voting in the preferential primary begins Tuesday and end March 4.
The new laws relate to everything from ballot security measures to the creation of an election integrity unit within Attorney General Tim Griffin’s office.
According to Act 544, if the State Board of Election Commissioners investigates a complaint of voting law violations and finds that “there is probable cause to believe there has been a criminal violation of the voter registration laws or election laws, the State Board of Election Commissioners may forward the complaint to the prosecuting attorney for criminal prosecution.”
A major change in the procedure for the filing of ballot initiatives and referendum petitions, outlined in Act 236, the Voter Protection Act of 2023, increases the number of counties from which signatures are required from 15 to 50.
The following is a list of legislation affecting voting, ballot access, election integrity and other changes that were passed into law in 2023:
• Act 92amends the law concerning early voting on county holidays. Sponsored by Rep. Zach Gramlich, R-Fort Smith, it requires polls to be open for early voting on county holidays. Under the law, polls would continue to be closed for early voting on state holidays.
• Act 138 amends the law concerning a vacancy on a county board of election commissioners. Sponsored by Sen. Clarke Rucker, D-Little Rock, the act establishes the authority of the chair of the county party to make a temporary appointment to the county board of election commissioners or, if the county has no party chair, for the state party chair to fill a vacancy with a temporary appointment.
• Act 141 allows absentee voting for a religious observance,and amends the law concerning absentee voting. Sponsored by Sen. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, the act amends existing law to allow an absentee ballot to be issued to any person who is prevented from voting during the 12-hour period that polls are open on election day because of observances of a religious discipline or religious holiday.
• Act 246 amends election procedures concerning ballot tabulators. Sponsored by Rep. Delia Haak, R-Siloam Springs, it provides procedures for moving election equipment from one location to another during the early voting period.
• Act 263 standardizes the hours early voting is available and amends the law concerning early voting. Sponsored by Sen. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, the act requires that offsite voting locations used during early voting be open during all required early voting hours unless the offsite location is unavailable for the entire early voting period.
• Act 294 requires legislative review of new federal election guidance, and amends the duties of the secretary of state. Sponsored by Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, it establishes a process by which the secretary of state is required to compile and report all new federal election guidance annually to the Joint Performance Review Committee and requires county election officials to report any guidance they receive from the federal government to the secretary of state within two business days.
• Act 300 amends the law concerning special elections on measures and questions. Sponsored by Rep. David Ray, R-Maumelle, the act requires that special elections for ballot measures and questions be held in March or November during presidential election years to coincide with the Arkansas preferential primary election in March or the general election in November, and in all other years on the second Tuesday of May or November.
• Act 305 eliminates write-in candidates in elections, amends election procedures and amends the law concerning elections. Sponsored by Sen. Steve Crowell, R-Magnolia, it eliminates write-in candidates and write-in voting from Arkansas’ election process.
• Act 308 amends the law concerning the correction of errors on ballots. Sponsored by Sen. Matt Stone, R-Camden, it establishes a uniform set of procedures that codify and explicitly authorize much of the current practice utilized to correct and mitigate ballot errors.
• Act 320 amends the prohibition on the delivery of unsolicited absentee ballot applications to electors and to amends the law concerning absentee ballots. Sponsored by Rep. Mindy McAlindon, R-Centerton, it prohibits unsolicited distribution of absentee ballot applications to voters; prohibits any person from filling out an absentee ballot application prior to delivery of the application to the voter; requires all persons other than mail carriers turning in absentee ballots on behalf of another voter to provide photo ID; and requires anyone who assists another voter in filling out an absentee ballot application to provide his or her name, address and signature on the application.
• Act 321 amends the law concerning the recount of ballots. Sponsored by Rep. Stetson Painter, R-Mountain Home, it revises existing law governing how a recount is requested, the procedures for conducting a recount when requested by a candidate, and clarifies the statute by removing language referencing procedures for electronic voting machines that are no longer used in the state.
• Act 328 amends the election procedures of municipalities. Sponsored by Rep. Carlton Wing, R-North Little Rock, it generally aligns election dates and timelines for all municipalities and adjusts timelines in an effort to simplify the election process for voters, candidates and election officials.
• Act 329 created the Ballot Security Act of 2023 and amends election law concerning the handling of election ballots. Sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, the act establishes new procedures and measures designed to enhance the security of ballots and election materials.
• Act 350 amends the law concerning paper ballots. Sponsored by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, it requires that counties that choose to use paper ballots in place of approved voting machines be responsible for the cost of the ballots and any devices used for printing and tabulation, and that the paper ballots be compatible with the electronic vote tabulation devices selected by the secretary of state.
• Act 353 amends the method of voting absentee, and prohibits the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. Sponsored by Sen. Tyler Dees, R-Siloam Springs, the act explicitly prohibits the use of drop boxes in state elections and requires absentee ballots to be delivered either by U.S. mail or in person to the county clerk’s office.
• Act 356 amends the compensation of a member of a county board of election commissioners, and amends the duties of a member of a county board of election commissioners. Sponsored by Sen. Matt Stone, R-Camden, it establishes minimum pay of $15 an hour for county election commissioners for work conducted outside of meetings, raises pay per meeting from $25 to $125 per meeting for up to 10 meetings and $25 per meeting for all subsequent meetings.
• Act 389 amends election law concerning polling sites, as well as the location of vote centers. Sponsored by Sen. Jim Petty, R-an Buren, the act provides that counties that use vote centers instead of precinct locations also use those vote centers for runoff elections, or to open a poll inside the county seat if the vote center site inside the runoff election area is not available.
• Act 421 amends election law concerning polling sites and amends the location of vote centers. Sponsored by Sen. Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville, sets a uniform deadline of 10 days after the election for overseas civilian absentee ballots to be returned.
• Act 441 creates the Voter Registration and Secure Voter Records Act of 2023, amends the Arkansas Constitution’s Amendment 51; and amends the duties of the secretary of state. Sponsored by Rep. Rick McClure, R-Sulphur Springs, establishes or amends various provisions to enhance the accuracy and efficacy of voter registration records in Arkansas.
• Act 444 establishes the Arkansas Poll Watchers Bill of Rights Act of 2023 to amend the law concerning poll watchers,and to amend the law concerning election procedures. Sponsored by Rep. Tony Furman, R-Benton, it directs the State Board of Election Commissioners to develop an online training program for poll watchers, identifies who can serve as a poll watcher, requires all poll watchers to wear an identification badge, and outlines the process for poll watchers to challenge a ballot.
• Act 462 amends the filing period for political parties, and amends the law concerning political parties. Sponsored by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, the act amends the number of signatures needed to establish a new political party from 3% of votes cast in the most recent governor’s election to a minimum of 10,000 signatures.