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Online registration proposed for voters

Girl Scout set lawmaker on bill’s path by Doug Thompson | February 27, 2021 at 7:33 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF 'I Voted' stickers for early voters Saturday at the Benton County Election Commission office in Rogers. Early voting continues through Monday for Tuesday's general election.

Online voter registration could come to Arkansas, in part, through the efforts of a Girl Scout, the sponsor of a bill to authorize the change said Friday.

“This started when Anna Claire Tilley made a presentation, and it was a good one,” said Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith, sponsor of House Bill 1517. The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee recommended the bill Wednesday.

Tilley spoke to a meeting of the state agencies committee in March of last year, part of her efforts to encourage online voting. Tilley is a student time at Southside High School in Fort Smith. Getting her state to approve online voting began as a Girl Scout project, according to news accounts.

Her proposal was studied in the interim between legislative sessions, Boyd said, and the bill introduced after the Legislature’s regular session began in January.

Gaining committee approval in the sponsor’s chamber of the Legislature is only the first step in passing a bill after filing it. The next step will be harder, Boyd said. The change in the bill would affect laws implementing Amendment 51 to the state’s constitution, which concerns voter registration.

Voters passed Amendment 51 in 1964, setting up the voter registration system used since. Bills affecting voter-approved constitutional amendments require a two-thirds super-majority to pass, Boyd said.

Amendment 51 passed in the civil rights era, repealing requirements such as such as poll taxes, used to suppress votes from Black Arkansans.

“The way this would work, it would be an extension of the system used by the Department of Motor Vehicles,” Boyd said of HB 1517. Federal “motor voter” law of 2002 allows state officials at vehicle registration agencies to also register people to vote.

Letting people register themselves online is a good idea in principle but how well it can be implemented is a big concern, said Becky Lewallen, Washington County Clerk.

“I have more problems with the Department of Motor Vehicles registrations than anywhere else,” Lewallen said Friday.

More than 105,000 people registered to vote at revenue offices in Arkansas last year, state Department of Finance and Administration figures show. The department oversees state revenue offices, where vehicles are registered.

Registrations taken at revenue offices are collected by the state Finance and Administration and sent to the Secretary of State’s Office daily.

The office distributes each voter on that list to the appropriate county clerk in the state’s 75 counties. The electronically distributed information is then put on local voter rolls.

Each step contains the potential for error.

Any mistake such as a typo on their registration at any point in the process will interfere, state election officials have said. Northwest Arkansas is particularly vulnerable to this problem, local election officials have said, because so many people move to this area from around the state, nation and internationally.

Letting voters enter their own information online and doing so at their convenience should eliminate much of the system’s chances for error and be more efficient too, Body said.

“Our office has seen a demo [demonstration] of the system and it will work,” said spokesman Kevin Niehaus of the secretary of state’s office. “We are neutral on the bill and if it passes are ready to help implement this system.”

Technical problems can be fixed, said Keidra Burrell, president of Fight Forward Arkansas. The Pine Bluff-based nonprofit group is a nonpartisan organization working to get more Arkansans registered to vote.

“In Arkansas, we do hard things — especially when it empowers eligible Arkansans to exercise their sacred right to vote,” Burrell said Friday. “Getting this right might take time, and that’s OK. We are thankful for them for that work.”

Doug Thompson can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWADoug.

House Bill 1517:

https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/Bills/Detail?id=HB1517& ddBienniumSession=2021/2021R

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