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Bill Eliminating Early Voting On The Day Before An Election Again Fails In Committee

Arkansas Senate

A bill that would eliminate early voting in Arkansas on the Monday before an Election Day has failed in a Senate committee for a second time.

During a voice vote Tuesday, members of the Senate State Agencies & Governmental Affairs Committee did not have enough yes votes to advance Senate Bill 485. It would eliminate all early voting in Arkansas on the day before both a preferential primary or general election day.

Four members of the public spoke against the bill, including Joshua Price, an election commissioner with the Pulaski County Election Commission. He addressed claims brought up in the prior hearing on the bill suggesting that poll workers needed a day off before Election Day in order to prepare.

"I personally trained 200 poll workers in this last election and they love working that early voting on Monday. They see it as a competition, who gets the most voters in the early voting location. So they love serving the people, the county and the state during that early voting day," Price said.

According to Price, 8,500 voters in Pulaski County voted on the Monday before the 2020 general election.

In closing for the bill, Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, said the legislation is more about creating a gap between the last Saturday of early voting and Election Day to allow time to make sure "all the processes are in place" and allow time to address any issues concerning voting machines or other problems that might arise.

"I don’t think we’re taking anything away because like I mentioned last time in closing, 12 months out of the year we make a payment on time. 12 months we make our kids’ time. We make time for what’s important and I think that people will respond accordingly if Monday is removed, to be able to give improvement to the process," Hammer said.

Though the bill failed again, the chair of the committee, Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said Hammer could bring the bill back to the committee in another attempt to pass it.

Also on Tuesday, the committee voted to advance House Bill 1517, which would allow for online voter registration in Arkansas.

The bill would create the "Voter Integrity and Voter Registration Modernization Act of 2021," requiring the Secretary of State to prepare and administer electronic voter registration application forms. The system would be available to users for free.

In order to be eligible to vote, the online registration must be completed at least 30 days before the date of the election. Applicants would be required to provide a current valid driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

In presenting the bill to the committee, Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, said there are many states that already offer online voter registration.

"Arkansas certainly won’t be spearheading the way here. It’s just, I think, something that addresses a generational gap and allows us to modernize a little bit, which I think is important," Davis said.

According to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of October 2020, 40 states in the country offer online voter registration.

Davis also said because the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, provides funding for establishing online voting registration, Arkansas would not have to seek addition funding to create the system.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

Sarah Kellogg was a Politics and Government reporter for KUAR from November 2018- August 2021.
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