A bill that would do away with early voting on the Monday before an Election Day has passed out of committee after failing in the same committee earlier in the day.
Following numerous attempts at passage, members of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committee voted 11 to 4 to pass Senate Bill 485 in a meeting Monday afternoon. The vote came after the same committee failed to pass the bill earlier in the day.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Kim Hammer of Benton, said, unlike voting itself, early voting is a privilege and therefore his bill doesn’t restrict the rights of Arkansans.
“To say that this is disenfranchising somebody’s right to vote, I think, is a totally inaccurate depiction of what this is intended to do. It’s to make sure that we have a safe zone between when early voting ends on Saturday afternoon and the biggest day in our nation’s history, which is Election Day,” Hammer said.
He argued the bill is necessary to give poll workers a break before Election Day, and because Monday is typically a low-voter turnout day in most rural precincts. But Benton County Clerk Betsy Harrell said doing away with Monday as an early voting day would result in larger lines on other days.
“There’s tremendous population growth in northwest Arkansas. We need absolutely every day and absolutely every hour that we can get because we’re going to be facing huge long lines,” Harrell said. “Facing a voter who’s been in line for two hours, that’s hard on a poll worker, I think even more so than a little less sleep on Monday night.”
Harrell said Mondays are typically a busy early voting day in her county, especially in primary elections.
Loriee Evans with the nonprofit voting rights group Indivisible said the bill is too sweeping of a change to address that specific problem.
"It addresses the concerns of a handful of election officials in a handful of counties, but ignores the concerns of a great majority of their peers in other counties. And of course there’s the tens of thousands of voters as well that would be impacted by this as well,” Evans said. “Perhaps a better solution would be to find a way to help the counties that are asking for more support, more staffing, extra time.”
The bill had advanced out of a Senate committee late last week after failing to advance numerous times. After originally failing on a vote of 10 to 4 Monday morning, the bill was passed after one more committee member voted in favor of it. The bill now goes to the full House.
This story has been updated to reflect the bill was taken up a second time by the committee Monday and ulimately passed on the second attempt.