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Lawmakers approve voter registration signature rule

Rep. Bruce Cozart (L) and Sen. Terry Rice (R) listen to Arkansas Board of Election Commissioner Director Chris Madison discuss a new voter registration rule during a legislative committee meeting on May 2, 2024.
Antoinette Grajeda
/
Arkansas Advocate
Rep. Bruce Cozart (L) and Sen. Terry Rice (R) listen to Arkansas Board of Election Commissioner Director Chris Madison discuss a new voter registration rule during a legislative committee meeting on May 2, 2024.

An Arkansas legislative committee on Thursday reviewed and approved an emergency rule that permits electronic signatures on voter registration applications only when they’re completed at certain state agencies.

The Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners last week gave initial approval to the rule, which requires paper registration applications to include a “wet signature,” meaning an applicant signs with a pen.

Board Director Chris Madison told the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Executive Subcommittee on Thursday that the rule was designed to create consistency because electronic signatures were being accepted by some county clerks and rejected by others.

According to the rule, electronic signatures are permitted at agencies that are identified in Amendment 51 of the Arkansas Constitution that are specifically authorized to use computer processes as part of its interaction with customers and program recipients.

Authorized agencies include the Office of Driver Services of the Revenue Division of the Department of Finance and Administration, State Revenue Offices, public assistance agencies and disability agencies.

Little Rock Democrat Rep. Joy Springer questioned if the new rule would be a deterrent to voting. Madison responded it would not because “the rule adopts what we have been doing for the last 20 years for voter registration applications.”

“It has required a wet signature, it doesn’t affect the ability to register through DMV, which is quite frankly the largest area that we get registrations from,” Madison said. “This rule doesn’t prevent a voter applicant from contacting a county clerk and completing their application with the county clerk. This doesn’t prohibit an applicant from filling it out, printing it and signing it and sending it in. This is just so that voter applicants in each county are treated the same.”

Former state legislator Joyce Elliott disagreed and told the Advocate after the meeting that the end result of the new rule will be “suppressing people’s votes.” Elliott is the founder of Get Loud Arkansas, a nonprofit focused on increasing voter turnout through initiatives like voter registration. Arkansas has the lowest voter registration and turnout rates in national elections, according to a 2023 National Conference on Citizenship report.

The new rule directly impacts the work of Get Loud Arkansas, which has used an online portal to help register around 500 voters in 63 counties since the start of the year. Elliott said Thursday’s meeting still failed to offer clarity as to the validity of these voters’ applications, which she said had already been approved by county clerks.

“They just created more chaos today than we had in the first place,” she said.

Elliott said her organization will seek further clarity from officials and help Arkansans re-register if their voter applications are deemed invalid. Get Loud Arkansas is also considering taking legal action.

“We are not going to back down from this,” Elliott said. “We will fight right through it because they’re wrong and the people of Arkansas deserve better and we’re going to get better.”

The emergency rule will go into effect Saturday and be in effect for 120 days. The Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners will next work on a permanent rule that will require a 30-day comment period and a public hearing.

Editor's Note: This story Lawmakers approve voter registration signature ruleappeared first on Arkansas Advocate.

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.
Arkansas Advocate intends to show how state government affects the lives of everyday Arkansans so they can make informed decisions about themselves, their families and their communities.