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Action on Contested Voter ID Rules for Arkansas Absentee Voters

Pulaski County Courthouse

Temporary emergency rules regarding absentee ballots submitted without a photo ID have been made permanent provisions. A 2013 state voter ID law allowed for in-person voters without ID to cast provisional ballots and gave them a period of time to show ID. But no similar allowance was given to absentee voters.

In February the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners created a rule giving absentee voters the same recourse as in-person voters. Wednesday that was made permanent, which board Director Justin Clay viewed as procedural.

“Our board filed a set of rules for voter identification and rules for poll watchers, vote challenges, and provisional voting under the emergency provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act on February 28th. Emergency rules expire after 120 days and so in order to make those rules permanent they have to be promulgated under the permanent provisions,” said Clay.

But Pulaski County Elections Commissioner Chris Burks argues this is another move by the state board overstepping its authority.

“What we see is an effort to correct something that the legislature did over Governor Beebe’s veto. We have what I call a rear guard action, an effort to correct something that’s broken, that’s wrong. I think in doing so we’re undermining the trust that voters have in our elected officials and the people that are supposed to oversee elections. We’re in effect legislating about things in implementing rules,” said Burks.

The state board was already being taken to court by the Pulaski County Elections Commission over the absentee ID rule prior to Wednesday’s action. Circuit Judge Tim Fox is likely to set a timeline on Monday for both commissions to submit arguments in advance of his judgment on whether or not the state board has authority to implement the changes. Burks said he expects the decision will be made in time for May elections. The Pulaski County Elections Commission has asked for an expedited process for Fox's summary judgment.

Director Clay said Wednesday’s actions to make the rules permanent provisions will also be submitted for review by the Administrative Rules & Regulations Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council.

Jacob Kauffman is a former news anchor and reporter for KUAR.
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