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NWA EDITORIAL: Consult the experts

Voting law changes ought to involve discussions by NWA Democrat-Gazette | June 7, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

If the Legislature wants to monkey around with the Arkansas' election laws, the state has at least a couple hundred experts prepared to serve as consultants.

They're known as county election commissioners.

In part driven by Donald Trump's "big lie" that the presidency was snatched from him as a result of election shenanigans, lawmakers in several states have spent the last several months tinkering around with election processes.

Take, for instance, Senate Bill 644 by Benton Republican Sen. Kim Hammer. It sets up a process empowering the Legislature to inject itself into resolving election issues. Gov. Asa Hutchinson allowed the bill to become Act 974 without his signature, saying "it amounts to a takeover of the review of all elections by the Joint Performance Review Committee of the General Assembly."

Republican supporters of election law changes say they're preserving the integrity of the voting process, despite the fact they've not identified any real issues to suggest Arkansas elections are flawed. Critics, often among Democrats, say the changes are an effort to make voting more difficult and to disenfranchise some voters.

Four laws in Arkansas already face litigation. They make changes about voter identification, regulating campaigning around polling locations, changing how ballots are validated and changing deadlines for mail-in absentee ballots.

Hutchinson didn't sign the mail-in ballot change either. He said it "unnecessarily" limited opportunities to vote before each election. Indeed, so many of the election law changes happening across the country can be described in much the same way -- unnecessary.

But if you are going to change election laws, doesn't it make sense to consult the people who do the real work of running the elections? Arkansas' 75 counties each have three Election Commission members, made up of two members of the state's majority party, as measured by which party holds most of the constitutional offices, and one member of the minority party. Republicans have held the majority for some time now. Those commissions usually have election coordinators who are well-versed in federal and state election laws because they're the ones who have to follow them.

The Washington County Election Commission will host a regional meeting of county election officials on July 21, reviving a collaborative effort from before the pandemic. Their hope is to collectively strengthen their ability to lobby for election law changes they view as needed and to oppose changes that aren't needed or that would cause problems if passed.

Commissioner Jim Estes recently said the Legislature too often fails to listen to the people dedicated to running elections.

What a great idea, one that shouldn't be an issue, unless the smooth and accurate operation of elections isn't what concerns Arkansas lawmakers.

Consult the experts. Listen to the people dedicated to running strong elections.

It just makes sense.

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What’s the point?

Before making big election law changes, lawmakers should consult with the many election commissioners serving across the state.

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