For Immediate Release
April 05, 2007
Contact: Natasha Naragon
(LITTLE ROCK, ARK.)—Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels today praised the 86th General Assembly’s passage of new laws that aim to improve election administration and voter satisfaction in Arkansas. Secretary Daniels’s election legislative package included bills intended to streamline election administration, remove barriers to voter participation and ballot access, and increase the pool of quality poll workers.
Streamlining Election Administration
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) changed the way elections are administered throughout the country. The transition to technologically driven elections has revealed a need for more time to prepare and process ballots than current law allows. This time crunch especially affects overseas citizens who depend on a quick ballot turnaround in order to be able to vote absentee.
Act 1049 (SB 855) sponsored by Senator Bobby Glover and Representatives Earnest Brown and Steve Harrelson addresses this issue with many significant changes to the election calendar that build in more time for election officials to print and program ballots and to process overseas citizens’ ballots. Some of these changes involve the candidate filing period. This period was moved up from the third Tuesday in March to the first weekday in March and is shortened from two weeks to one week.
“Overhauling our state’s election calendar is going to make a world of difference for our local election officials who work diligently to meet sometimes impossible deadlines,” said Secretary Daniels. “My hope is that this new legislation will help ease some of their administrative burdens.”
SB 884 sponsored by Senator Steve Faris and Rep. E. Brown would have established a County Election Coordinator position to ensure that each county would have a full-time professional election administrator. This legislation is another outgrowth of the HAVA-mandated changes, which have dramatically increased not only the overall workload, but also the level of technological proficiency required to administer modern elections. This bill was sent to the Interim Committee on State Agencies to determine the best method of implementation and to secure funding for the counties.
“Arkansas cannot continue to depend on part-time, volunteer election administrators in a fragmented and decentralized environment and expect our increasingly technological elections to run perfectly every time,” Secretary Daniels said. “We need to secure state funding for our counties to hire trained, certified election administrators, and I’m disappointed that Arkansas couldn’t do that for the 2008 presidential election. To avoid placing an unfunded mandate on our counties, I believe interim study by the legislature is the best course of action while funding is being secured.”
Eight other bills passed by the General Assembly were also included in the Secretary of State’s election legislative package with the purpose of streamlining election administration. This new legislation cleans up confusing language, clarifies intent, and outlines administrative procedures where none previously existed. The new laws are as follows: Act 222 (SB 224), Act 224 (SB 230), Act 705 (SB 309), Act 987 (HB 2214), Act 556 (HB 2312), Act 834 (HB 2624), Act 835 (HB 2625), and Act 1020 (HB 2763).
Removing Barriers to Voter Participation and Ballot Access
Act 261 (HB 1509) sponsored by Representatives Horace Hardwick and Jeff Wood, and Senator Ed Wilkinson will allow all overseas citizens to cast an instant runoff ballot at the same time as his or her regular ballot. This protects overseas citizens’ right to vote in a runoff when the absentee ballot turnaround time is often tight. Rep. Hardwick sponsored similar legislation in 2005 providing instant runoff voting to active duty military personnel stationed overseas.
Act 560 (HB 2360) sponsored by Rep. E. Brown and Sen. Glover will allow registered voters who have moved across county lines to transfer their voter registration within four days of the election. Under current law, voters who move across county lines within 30 days of an election are ineligible to vote in that election. The four-day cutoff is required for administrative purposes.
“Our election laws need to reflect our increasingly mobile society and not punish those who are overseas by choice or because they are serving our country in the military, nor should voters be punished for moving outside their home county within a month of an election,” said Secretary Daniels. “Voting is a precious right, and it should not be denied for arbitrary reasons.”
Act 821 (HB 2353) sponsored by Representatives Dan Greenberg and E. Brown, and Senator Jimmy Jeffress revises the procedure for new parties to get on the ballot since federal court declared the current law unconstitutional last year. This bill makes the procedure for ballot access the same for new parties and independent candidates, as recommended in the judge’s ruling. Among other things, this bill lowers the number of signatures required from three percent in the last governor’s race (which was 24,000 in 2006) to 10,000 and shortens the time to gather the signatures from five months to two months.
Act 822 (HB 2367) sponsored by Rep. Greenberg sets up a procedure for independent presidential candidates to access the ballot. Currently, Arkansas is the only state with no procedures for this type of candidate to get on the ballot. This bill makes the procedure identical to that set out in current law for political groups to get on the ballot in a presidential race, which is to submit a petition with 1,000 valid signatures. This oversight in state law forced independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader to form the Populist group, and later the Better Life group, in Arkansas in order to get on the ballot in 2004.
“I care deeply that all serious candidates for public office are able to access our statewide ballot,” Secretary Daniels said. “Last year it was proven that an independent candidate with limited funds can get 10,000 signatures in two months. I’m confident that a new party, with presumably even greater support than an independent candidate, will have no problems meeting that same requirement.”
Increasing the Pool of Quality Poll Workers
SJR4 sponsored by Sen. Faris and Rep. Wood would loosen restrictions on who can serve as a poll worker. Currently, almost all government workers are disqualified from serving as poll workers. This amendment would remove those restrictions from the state constitution and allow the General Assembly to set the poll worker qualifications. This would allow for the possibility of employing schoolteachers, college professors, and other governmental professionals who have the expertise required to work as poll workers in modern elections. This resolution would also remove outdated provisions, like the poll tax, and obsolete language. SJR4 was approved by the legislature to be referred to the voters in the 2008 general election.
“I urge Arkansans to vote for SJR4 to answer the statewide need for more qualified poll workers. It just doesn’t make sense to prohibit teachers and other willing professionals from serving in that capacity,” Secretary Daniels said. “Overall, the 86th General Assembly has done a tremendous job in terms of passing legislation to modernize election administration and improve voter participation and access to the ballot.”