LITTLE ROCK – In the regular session of 2021 the legislature approved at least 25 new election laws that will go into effect on July 28.
Some of the new laws will affect poll workers, county election commissioners and county clerks’ office.
Others will affect voters the next time they cast a ballot. For example, Act 249 of 2021 tightens the current photo ID requirement. It eliminates the option that allowed voters to have their ballot counted, even though they did not bring a photo ID to the polling place, if they filled out a sworn statement that they were registered to vote.
Under Act 249, if they cannot present a photo ID they must cast a provisional ballot and it will not be counted unless they appear in person and present an ID to the county clerk, or the county board of election commissioners, by noon on the Monday following the election.
Act 728 of 2021 restricts loitering within 100 feet outside the main entrance to a polling site. You can stand in line if you are waiting to vote, but you cannot stay within 100 feet unless you intend to go inside and vote, or if you have a lawful purpose.
Act 736 of 2021 changes the law on absentee ballots. Under the act, if someone has five or more absentee ballots in their possession, it will be presumed that the person intends to commit voter fraud.
Previously, a person could possess 10 absentee ballots without triggering a presumption of fraud. The law exempts mail carriers, people who deliver for commercial carriers and administrators of residential care facilities.
Under Act 736 county clerks may make absentee ballot applications readily available online, or in paper form, but they may not send them unsolicited to voters.
County clerks must maintain a daily count of absentee ballot applications received, and report the totals to the county board of election commissioners weekly. Voters must use their residential address when applying for an absentee ballot. If an absentee ballot fails to declare the voter’s residential address, it will not be counted.
Act 973 of 2021 moves up the deadline for delivering an absentee ballot in person to the county clerk’s office, from the regular close of business on the Monday before election day to the regular close of business on the previous Friday.
Act 756 of 2021 broadens the jurisdiction of the state Board of Election Commissioners, for example it authorizes the board to “institute corrective actions” in response to a complaint about voting procedures. It allows the board to use local law enforcement officers to enforce subpoenas of public records being withheld.
Act 1022 of 2021 requires county boards of election commissioners to create reports on the total number of provisional ballots, absentee ballots and in-person ballots cast in early voting and on election day. The reports must include the number of ballots rejected, and the reasons for rejecting them.
Act 974 of 2021 requires the state Attorney General to set up a hotline for complaints about violations of election law. Complaints will be sent to the legislative Joint Performance Review Committee, and to local prosecutors if necessary. The legislative committee may investigate allegations.
Act 974 also empowers the state board to decertify county election officials. The state board take over the conducting of elections in the county if it discovers severe violations that threaten free, fair and impartial elections in that county.