Arkansas at the forefront of the Republican attack on local control and democracy
“Republican state lawmakers have introduced at least 216 bills in 41 states to give legislatures more power over elections officials…Of those, 24 have been enacted into law across 14 states.”https://t.co/3vcQfBGXtm
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) June 19, 2021
A good report in today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Neal Earley on how the city and county lobbies saw recent actions of the legislature as an attack on local governments.
The 2021 session was only a continuation of the penchant for usurping power used in ways the legislature doesn’t like — be it guns, human rights, smoking, environmental issues and even planning codes.
I was surprised the lobbies didn’t mention another major incursion on local control, though it is noted in a New York Times article today on the national Republican Party’s coordinated effort to suppress voting.
Arkansas’s vote suppression efforts merited a prominent mention in the headline.
Arkansas Republicans haven’t yet found a way to get around the requirement for a minority voice on county election commissions they already control, but they have allowed the state to take over running elections and investigating complaints, including usurping the power of local officials over election staffing. This is particularly aimed at seizing control of the election machinery in Pulaski County, the state’s largest and still a Democratic stronghold.
The national strategy is clear.
“It’s a thinly veiled attempt to wrest control from officials who oversaw one of the most secure elections in our history and put it in the hands of bad actors,” said Jena Griswold, the chairwoman of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State and the current Colorado secretary of state. “The risk is the destruction of democracy.”
The Times explains the efforts in Arkansas.
In Arkansas, Republicans were stung last year when Jim Sorvillo, a three-term state representative from Little Rock, lost re-election by 24 votes to Ashley Hudson, a Democrat and local lawyer. Elections officials in Pulaski County, which includes Little Rock, were later found to have accidentally tabulated 327 absentee ballots during the vote-counting process, 27 of which came from the district.
Mr. Sorvillo filed multiple lawsuits aiming to stop Ms. Hudson from being seated, and all were rejected. The Republican caucus considered refusing to seat Ms. Hudson, then ultimately voted to accept her.
But last month, Arkansas Republicans wrote new legislation that allows a state board of election commissioners — composed of six Republicans and one Democrat — to investigate and “institute corrective action” on a wide variety of issues at every stage of the voting process, from registration to the casting and counting of ballots to the certification of elections. The law applies to all counties, but it is widely believed to be aimed at Pulaski, one of the few in the state that favor Democrats.
The author of the legislation, State Representative Mark Lowery, a Republican from a suburb of Little Rock, said it was necessary to remove election power from the local authorities, who in Pulaski County are Democrats, because otherwise Republicans could not get a fair shake.
“Without this legislation, the only entity you could have referred impropriety to is the prosecuting attorney, who is a Democrat, and possibly not had anything done,” Mr. Lowery said in an interview. “This gives another level of investigative authority to a board that is commissioned by the state to oversee elections.”
Lowery seems to suggest Democrats can expect a fair shake from the Republican executive, the Republican legislature, the Republican-controlled legislative districting board and the Republican-controlled state board of election commissioners. The record does not bear him out.
Do you trust this gang in the GOP tweet crowing about the vote suppression victories? (That’s Lowery on the left.) Secure for Republicans, they meant to say. In the case of former Pulaski Election Chair Evelyn Gomez, securing in 2020 included a confrontation with an election worker who complained she’d physically assaulted him. Feel awesome now?
Proud to recognize @OnTheMarkforAR, @DavidARay & @KarilynBrown1 for their sponsorship of the #BillsOfAwesomeness in the recent #arleg session to better secure elections in #arpx. pic.twitter.com/r3dGJ33NUP
— PulaskiARGOP (@PulaskiARGOP) June 18, 2021
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