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Responsive Gov’s Grade TL;DR

The Arkansas Legislature continued to impose additional restrictions on voting rights this past year. It banned drop boxes and further restricted the process to return mail ballots. It also expanded the existing private funding ban for elections, without providing any additional resources to local election offices. While there were a few minor pro-voter initiatives passed, Arkansas continues to implement legislation that is hostile to voters. Therefore, the state received, yet again, a D- on this year’s progress report.

Looking Back

Where Arkansas Started at the Beginning of 2023

  • Automatic Voter Registration: No
  • Online Voter Registration: No
  • Same-Day Registration: No
  • Restoration of Rights: Parole and/or Probation Disenfranchisement
  • Vote by Mail: Excuse-Only
  • Electronic Registration Information Center Member: No
  • Early Voting Opportunities: Regular Ballot Early Voting
  • ID Requirements: Strict Non-Photo ID

Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for Arkansas as of 2022, we considered the state a bottom tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2023 activity against other bottom tier states.

How Our Tier Compares

  • COVI (2022): 48th
  • EPI Score (2020): 50th
  • CLC State Scorecard: 4/10
  • MAP Democracy Rating (2022): LOW

2023: This Past Year

Legislative Action

The Legislature enacted several new restrictive anti-voter laws this past session while making only minimal pro-voter changes.

  • H 1325 standardizes early voting hours across all available sites in a county by requiring all early voting sites to be open the same hours that the main early voting site is open.
  • S 255 expands the state’s existing ban on the use of private funds for election administration from county boards of election commissioners to include all state or county employees or officials.
  • S 258 explicitly prohibits the use of drop boxes and requires all mail ballots not returned by mail to be “hand-delivered inside the office of the county clerk.”
  • H 1513 establishes an “Election Integrity Unit” within the office of the attorney general with the authority to investigate election crimes and election security issues.
  • H 1407 proposes several amendments to the state constitution requiring the secretary of state to maintain the statewide voter registration list and completing specific list maintenance activities that includes coming up with a system to verify citizenship status for new registrants; clarifying that only U.S. citizens may register and all non-citizen registrations must be canceled and adding trade school IDs to the list of acceptable voter IDs. It also includes a statutory change to require the State Election Board to conduct annual audits of the voter registration list.
  • H 1411 makes it a crime for county clerk/election officials to distribute unsolicited mail ballot applications and ballots to voters. It also requires any voter assistants to include their name/address/signature on the voter’s mail ballot application and requires anyone picking up an absentee ballot for another voter to show photo ID upon pickup.
  • H 1461 requires state and county election officials to submit any new federal election guidance they receive to the state within two days. The secretary of state will then compile all guidance into a yearly report to the Legislature.
  • H 1457 establishes a “Poll Watcher Bill of Rights” that lays out the qualifications for serving as a poll watcher, requires counties to establish a broad range of designated observation areas from which watchers must be allowed to observe ballots and tasks the State Board of Election Commissioners with establishing a training program for poll watchers, among other things.
  • S 273 changes the deadlines for moving vote center locations before an election; changes requirements for siting vote center locations for runoff elections.
  • S 250 requires ballot counting to be completed within 24 hours after the polls close.
  • H 1512 authorizes the state to accept all mail ballots from outside the country that arrive within 10 days after the election. Previous law required those ballots to be applied for at least 30 days before the election with a signature, date, and postmark on the ballot by Election Day in order to be counted.
  • H 1687 establishes guidelines for counties that may opt to do a hand count of ballots. Any county that decides to hand count paper ballots is responsible for all costs associated with the hand count, including purchasing equipment and labor. However, the county is still eligible to receive the same reimbursement rate for costs as if it had conducted a machine tabulation of votes. Additionally, ballots must still be run through tabulation devices before the county can conduct the hand count for any general election or election that involves more than 5,000 registered voters.
  • S 272 authorizes the State Board of Election Commissioners to choose to “conduct an election integrity review” of election records and documents in odd-numbered years. It also authorized the board to audit the results of every presidential primary.