Senate panel endorses bills to revamp state election board


LITTLE ROCK — Two bills that would revamp the state Board of Election Commissioners were endorsed by a Senate committee Tuesday.

The committed discussed a third measure that would transfer the board into the secretary of state’s office, but the sponsor said he would seek a vote later this week.

One of the bills endorsed by the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee was Senate Bill 720 ,which would allow the public to file complaints about county election commissioners. The measure also would require the state Board of Election Commissioners to investigate and determine if a county commissioner should be removed.

SB 720, also recommended by the panel, would restructure the state board by adding two new positions to the seven-member panel. One of the new members would be appointed by the Republican Party of Arkansas and the other by the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

The sponsor of the bills, Sen. Bryan King, R-Greenwood, said the measures are intended to reduce political partisanship and to improve elections across the state. The lawmaker said the board has in the past ignored problems and complaints about elections. He said that in 2011 it failed to adequately respond to allegations of voter fraud in a special election in Crittenden County which Democrat Hudson. Hallum won a vacant House seat.

Hallum resigned his seat last year after pleading guilty to a federal vote fraud charge stemming from the special election. The charge related to absentee balloting, which King’s bill does not address.

Susan Inman, a member of the Pulaski County Election Commission and the state Board of Election Commissioners, spoke against the bills, saying they are opposed by the state board.

State election commissioner Stuart Soffer also spoke against the proposals.

A third bill sponsored by King, SB 722, would transfer the board to the secretary of state’s office.

Soffer and Inman questioned moving an independent board under the control of a partisan election official.

Secretary of State Mark Martin “clearly was not appointed by the Republican Party,” King told reporters after the meeting. “He was appointed by the people of Arkansas in an election. He ran as a Republican, but he was elected by the people of Arkansas.”

King is also sponsor of SB 719, which would create a Voter Integrity Unit with the secretary of state’s office. The four-member unit would investigate any complaint filed with the state Board of Election Commissioners alleging voter fraud. The unit would have the authority to hold hearings, seek witness testimony and present evidence. It would refer allegations to a prosecutor or the state police.

SB 719 has passed the Senate and is scheduled to be considered Wednesday by the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.