New Arkansas bill proposed to streamline absentee ballot process

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A new bill, SB701, looks to improve and streamline the absentee ballot process in Arkansas. 

State Senator Clarke Tucker is sponsoring the Arkansas Absentee Voting Integrity Act of 2021 and said he hopes this bill will make it easier for all parties involved. 

“We’re really just trying to make the process simpler for the voters for the county clerks and for the election commissioners,” Tucker said.

Gennie Hirschy is the director of For AR People, which is a voting advocacy group.  She has voted in Arkansas absentee in the past and thinks the application process can be cumbersome. 

“I lived overseas for three years and I did vote absentee, it’s confusing,” Hirschy said.

Hirschy said the confusing part of the application process is the form itself.  She believes it’s not in terms most people can understand easily.

“This bill would require the language to be really plain for people to understand and be able to fill that out without these outstanding questions of maybe I need to get a lawyer to help me fill this out,” Hirschy said.

SB701 would require the Secretary of State’s office to create an application all 75 counties would use because many counties have different application formats. 

The bill also requires voters to be notified if their ballot has any issues that way they could potentially cure the issue. 

Hirschy does say the state must go out of its way to make sure voters know what they need to provide and then the opportunity to provide it.

“The burden should all upon our state and our government and all of our lawmakers to communicate clearly with voters what is expected of them,” Hirschy said.

SB701 does not change when absentee ballots can begin to be counted – 8:30 am on Election Day – but does eliminate the deadline for when those should be finished being counted – 7:00 pm on Election Day.

Hirschy believes removing that deadline will likely put less stress on election commissioners, which will in turn lead to less mistakes.

“Totally agree that we need to give them all the time like can to count all of the votes because every vote counts,” Hirschy said.

Tucker thinks the 2020 election was abnormal in terms of absentee ballots but he believes there will be more cast in future elections.

“I think going forward will have few were absentee balance than we did in 2020 but I think will have much more than we did before 2020 because I think some people learn they can vote that way and they will continue to vote that way in the future,” Tucker said.

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