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Arkansas Legislature Passes Bills Tightening Signature Verification, Absentee Ballot Requests



Arkansas – Arkansas became the latest state to pass a series of voting reforms this week, sending multiple bills to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk.

The bills, overwhelmingly passed by the state’s Republican legislature, focus on in-person and absentee voting, while a third transfers additional authority to county election commissioners instead of local clerks. Hutchinson has not publicly said whether he plans to sign them.

The Arkansas Senate passed HB 1715 Tuesday, which prohibits clerks from sending unsolicited absentee ballots to voters and requires them to report how many absentee ballot applications they receive each day. It also requires a voter’s signature to match their signature from when they first registered to vote, and forbids county clerks from providing a ballot if they do not match.

While advocates have said that signature verification is critical to preventing voter fraud, critics have argued that signatures change over time due to an array of factors including age and injury, and warn that requiring an exact match could lead to legal voters having their absentee ballots discarded or their request for one denied.

Another bill, SB 486, prohibits any person from being within 100 feet of a polling place unless they are there for “lawful purposes,” like voting or tabulating ballots. Critics have likened it to a controversial piece of Georgia’s election bill that prohibits most people from handing out food or water to voters waiting in line, but supporters say that it reinforces efforts to prevent electioneering, which is already illegal under state law.

The bill passed the state House Tuesday 74-23.

The Arkansas House also passed SB 487 Tuesday by a vote of 87-2. The bill revokes county clerks’ authority to pick voting centers and transfers it to county election commissioners.

The bills are a few of many introduced by Republicans in state legislatures across the country. While they have said that they are necessary to preserve the integrity of elections, Democrats argue that they are an effort to make voting harder for more Americans following President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

The bills also follow months of false claims from former President Donald Trump that the 2020 was “rigged” and “stolen.”

Hundreds of corporations and high-profile individuals have come out against the Republican-led bills. Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game out of Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill overhauling the state’s elections into law in March.