A bill that would have eliminated the ability for Arkansans to early vote the day before Election Day failed to advance a Senate committee on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 485 would modify the early voting period for primary and general elections to where it ends at 4 p.m. the Saturday before Election Day as opposed to 5 p.m. the Monday before Election Day.
In presenting the bill to the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, framed it as an opportunity to give election staff a day to prepare for Election Day. He also said Arkansans would be able to vote on any other day of early voting if they wanted to.
"We’re not taking any right away. That was the statement that was made. I may be wrong on this, but I’m 99% sure I’m right and I reserve the right to apologize if I’m wrong. But I think it has been declared in law that voting is a right, early voting is a privilege," Hammer said.
According to Hammer, over 57,000 Arkansans voted on the Monday before Election Day in 2020.
Speaking before the committee heard public testimony against the legislation, Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, said she liked the option of voting the Monday before an election and was uncomfortable with the bill and spoke on some of its language.
"This only includes primary and general elections and it doesn’t include special elections. So will we allow early voting on a Monday for special elections, but not general or primary and then how confusing is that to voters?" Davis said.
Kristi Stahr with the Pulaski County Election Commission spoke on the need for the legislation, saying one reason for not having early voting on the day before the election is to give staff and poll workers time to prepare for election day.
"We have got to provide some type of break because when they’re working all day on the early voting period and they’re not leaving until eight, nine 10 o’clock at night, and then they’re coming back at 5:30 the next morning and then staying there until an incredible amount of time, 10, 11 p.m.? We can’t ask this. We can’t keep asking this of people," Stahr said.
Three members of the public spoke against the legislation. Afterwards, Sen. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, spoke against it before the committee voted.
"We need to be making it easier to vote not harder for people to vote. And I have the utmost respect for the administrative burden placed on the staff and the volunteers, but this is important work and it takes hard work to do," Tucker said.
The committee, who decided the measure by a voice vote, did not have the needed number of "yes" votes to advance it to the full Senate. The vote on the bill was expunged, meaning it could be brought up to the committee again.
The committee did vote to pass Senate Bill 486, which limits people from entering or remaining within 100 feet of the exterior entrance of a polling location "except for a person entering or leaving a building where voting is taking place for lawful purposes."
Hammer, who sponsored this bill as well, said its intent is to make that area a zone free of possible voter interference.
"Obviously we know that you can’t do that if you’re bearing a sign. But we did have reports of individuals that were camping out within the 100 foot and we think that that ought to be a sacred zone," Hammer said.
Loriee Evans, with the group Indivisible Little Rock and Central Arkansas, spoke against the legislation.
"We do believe that it imposes unnecessary infringements on individuals," Evans said.
The bill passed by a voice vote. It now goes to the full Senate for a vote.