- Associated Press - Sunday, March 2, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Pulaski County Election Commission has voted to file a lawsuit over changes to absentee ballot-counting procedures that the group says conflict with guidance from the Arkansas attorney general’s office on the state’s new voter-identification law.

The county election commission voted 2-0 Saturday to sue the state Board of Election Commissioners.

Pulaski County Attorney Karla Burnett told the state board on Friday that she would urge the county commissioners to sue and to ignore the state board’s new rule to treat absentee votes without approved identification as provisional ballots, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday (https://bit.ly/1kodi5k ).

Under the new law, a provisional ballot gives in-person voters who didn’t show identification at the time of voting until Monday after the election to present IDs to the commission to have their votes counted.

But the law makes no mention of a similar grace period for absentee voters.

Burnett said the state board had exceeded its authority by issuing the rule because it had extended and modified the law without authorization. She also said the rule conflicts with an Arkansas attorney general’s earlier opinion on that issue.

The state board may make rules “to assure even and consistent application of voter registration laws and fair and orderly election procedures,” according to state law. State law also says that “the Attorney General shall provide legal assistance to the board in answering questions regarding election laws.”

On Saturday, Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Larry Crane told the county commission that “an administrative body cannot draft something that is not based in law.”

The lawsuit will challenge the constitutionality of the board’s new rules and seek a “declaratory judgment” that will decide how the law will be interpreted in the state.

“Ultimately that would provide the most certainty,” county Election Director Bryan Poe said.

County commissioners said Saturday that they hope the lawsuit is filed quickly. They are unsure how they will count the absentee ballots that don’t have identification if a judge does not rule or impose a temporary injunction on or before the county’s special millage election March 11.

The county already has received more than 300 absentee ballots for the election.

The commission earlier this year had sought an attorney general’s opinion on how the voter-identification law passed last year should be interpreted for absentee ballots. That move came after the state board and the secretary of state’s office issued differing advice to Craighead County election officials during a special election.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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