This year’s elections have run into a couple of snags because legislators forgot to dot some i’s and cross some t’s.
In one case, the state’s new law requiring voters to present a photo ID at the ballot box or include some form of identification when voting absentee caused a problem in the Jonesboro state Senate race.
The voter ID law was passed in 2013 amidst a political brouhaha, with Republicans saying it is needed to prevent fraud, and Democrats saying its real purpose is to make it harder for poor people to vote for Democrats.
The law allows voters at the polls that don’t have an ID to vote provisionally and then present one by noon on the Monday after the election, but it is silent on what to do about absentee voters who don’t provide an ID.
That meant the Craighead County Election Commission didn’t know what to do with about 70 absentee ballots lacking IDs. After receiving conflicting advice from state authorities, it eventually decided to consider those ballots to be provisional. Doing the best it could under the circumstances, it bought ads in the Jonesboro Sun after the election asking absentee voters to present IDs so they could have their votes counted. Sixty-five did not get the message or decided it wasn’t worth the trouble because the election was not in doubt.
There’s been another recent example of an election law passed in 2013 with an oversight, but this one could have been more serious, and might still be.
The primary purpose of Act 1413 is to require paid signature gatherers for ballot measures to register with the state and undergo training. However, it also changed the way legislators refer proposals to voters by stripping from the attorney general the authority for writing the measures’ proper names.
Unfortunately, there’s been some confusion about who would have that authority instead, and it’s kind of hard to vote on something that doesn’t have a name. Attorney Martha Adcock with the secretary of state’s office, which is in charge of administering elections, told legislators Thursday that it’s going to work out this year — the bill titles will just be used as the ballot titles — and it won’t be a problem moving forward. But the attorney general is still reviewing that assertion. Could somebody challenge the election results in court because of the law? Sure, Adcock said. They always can.
How do these oversights occur? Cynics might say they are the result of bad intentions, but legislators have pretty good intentions most of the time.
These mistakes instead were born by a legislative culture that tries to accomplish too much too quickly. Legislators in a three-month session consider thousands of bills and pass many of them — many of which they can’t possibly have time to learn about. They race from committee meeting to committee meeting while hearing from constituents and special interests. Because they want to get their own bills passed, they are a little reluctant to oppose what another member is proposing, lest they create an opponent. Because these are part-time positions, they also have jobs and businesses that can’t completely be ignored, in addition to their families. And while term limits have caused more good than harm, the fact remains that a lot of legislators are new at this.
Legislators are about to meet for their fiscal session, which occurs every other year and involves appropriating money for state programs. The fiscal sessions last about a month and everybody hopes they are uneventful, but this year will be a doozy as legislators reconsider funding the so-called Medicaid private option.
It’s a big deal. Whatever they decide, let’s hope legislators dot their i’s and cross their t’s.
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Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.