The 2021 Legislative session captured headlines for some of the bills that were passed. But I think some of what my colleagues turned their noses up to is just as noteworthy and highlights some of the biggest missteps of the session. I touched on some of the bills that didn’t see the light of day when writing on education, voting, and violence in previous reviews. Still, I felt it necessary to zero in on some of the 93rd General Assembly’s missed opportunities.
After a national election left many states scrambling to amend their voting laws to address imaginary problems rooted in fringe conspiracy theories, Senate Bill 701 sought to shore up the longstanding institution of absentee voting in Arkansas.
SB701 proposed several amendments to the absentee voting process. Included in that was…
Requiring county clerk to mail to the voter no later than 25 days before each election an absentee ballot for the election and no later than ten days before the corresponding runoff election.
Allowing the Secretary of State to use plain and simple language on absentee ballot applications.
Allowing absentee and early votes shall be counted before the close of business on the Thursday following election day.
Allowing absentee ballots shall be tabulated or counted no earlier than 8:30 a.m. on election day.
Removing requirement for absentee ballots to have the required materials “properly placed in the outer envelope.”
Putting in place a procedure for canvassing ballots while protecting the voter’s identity would have clarified how ballots without proper accompanying materials or comparable verification measures are to be handled.
Asserting that a ballot not automatically be considered fraudulently submitted merely because it was not counted because:
Not all the required voter materials were included
The voter materials did not compare
If a designated bearer, authorized agent, or administrator delivered the ballot, the name of the designated bearer, authorized agent, or administrator did not compare with the information on the voter statement; or
For another innocuous reason.
Allowing for an absentee ballot that has otherwise been designated provisional under this section may be cured by the voter by the close of business the Monday following the election.
Requiring that within 24 hours after an absentee ballot is designated by any election official or by the county board of election commissioners as provisional, the county board of election commissioners shall by mail, email, or phone notify the voter of the deadline and process for curing their absentee ballot.
Yes, there was a lot in the bill. But every aspect of the measure was rooted in practicality, efficiency, (and more importantly) reality (something that many of the election-related measures passed were not). Unlike some of the previously mentioned bills, SB701 actually saw the light of day and was debated valiantly on the Senate floor. But rather than streamline an election intuition that’s been around as long as Arkansas has been a state, my fellow lawmakers killed the measure. Instead, they advanced a bevy of bills to complicate voting rather than make it easier, all under the false pretense of election integrity.
Arkansas absentee ballots didn’t sway a national election or pull a Democrat ahead of a Republican for any constitutional office. But seeing such a travesty happen in other states, my colleagues took advantage of the phony voter fraud narrative and did what they could to stack the deck in their favor. Just in case.