Republican Attorney General candidate Leslie Rutledge had her voter registration removed by the Pulaski County clerk Tuesday, according to a letter he sent to her. The action creates uncertainty in the race between Republican Rutledge and Democrat candidate Nate Steel.
“We have received documentation indicating that you are registered in the State of Virginia and/or the District of Columbia. Because of this, we have canceled your voter registration in Pulaski County,” Pulaski Circuit/County Clerk Larry Crane wrote to Rutledge.
Crane said it was his duty under the law to remove her registration. Crane said he was sent a letter from the "Arkansas Libertarian Coalition" detailing her voter registration in other states. The Libertarian Party says they have no clue who that group is and they are not behind sending the information to Crane.
“Under amendment 51 to the Arkansas constitution, the voter registrar, that's me in this case, has a mandatory duty to cancel the registration of anyone that's not qualified to vote here,” Crane said.
There are several provisions of Amendment 51 that leave uncertain a legal path for whether Crane's actions were carried out accurately and what options Rutledge may have.
The Arkansas amendment states that the permanent registrar – Crane, in this instance – has the duty to cancel the registration of voters under certain circumstances. They include voters who have changed their residence to an address outside the county or who are not lawfully qualified or registered electors of this state, or of the county.
Crane contends his research suggested this was the case in Rutledge's cancelled voter registration.
However, the amendment also states that the permanent registrar "shall, thirty (30) days before cancellation, notify all persons whose registration records are to be cancelled" in accordance with the amendment. "The notice may be either by publication or by first class mail," the amendment states.
That provision is embedded in a section that speaks to voters who have not voted in several cycles. The law allows them to be "purged" from voter rolls. Another section in the cancellation provisions says that the permanent registrar "may" send a cancellation notice by first-class mail "within ten (10) days" for cancellations other than dormant voters.
Rutledge's campaign sent out an email Wednesday calling her removal “unbelievable.” Rutledge told Channel 7 News that her removal from the ballot is a political stunt and that she only received word of her cancellation when it also hit the newspaper.
“They did contact me late afternoon, this was after the decision had been made. They never notified me that there might be a problem. That's the concerning part. You have Larry Crane, a Democrat clerk who is a contributor to Nate Steel's campaign, my opponent's campaign, arbitrarily throwing me off the rolls without any sort of notification,” Rutledge said.
Crane did donate $100 to Democrat Nate Steel's campaign earlier this year.
Rutledge said she has been unnecessarily targeted by the news media. Reporters have obtained her emails from her time at the Department of Human Services.
“I knew it would be difficult to be the first Republican elected attorney general, I had no idea how hard it would be to be the first woman elected attorney general,” Rutledge said.
She says she believes she is being treated differently than other candidates.
“Absolutely. I don't think we've seen these sort of personal attacks in races on a candidate just from these quiet underground tones and media lashing out and reporting false stories before getting the evidence,” Rutledge said.
Crane said the removal of Rutledge isn't political.
“Once I step in these doors, then I become totally neutral and everyone that walks into this office gets treated with respect and dignity,” Crane said.
Rutledge said she thought she took the proper measures to register to vote upon moving back to Arkansas.
“I had gone down in person and asked the clerk's office and said I need to register, here's my form, they said no you don't need to fill that out, here's a change of address,” Rutledge said.
Crane said Rutledge did fill out a change of address form, but should have re-registered as a voter from another state. Crane provided Rutledge's change of address form. The new form posted on the clerk's website clearly states that a person moving from out of state must re-register with the clerk on the change of address form, but the old form, the one Rutledge filled out, does not say that.
ELIGIBILITY, LEGAL ACTION
Democrats are hoping that the complications of Rutledge's voter registration will disqualify her from the November ballot. Republicans are prepared to defend Rutledge and are seeking more information from Crane's office.
State law requires a candidate be a registered voter of the state at the time of the candidate's affidavit to run for office, which was last March during filing period.
“Whenever a candidate's eligibility is questioned, that's a matter for the courts,” said Secretary of State spokeswoman Laura Labay.
A legal determination may be required to clear up Rutledge's candidacy eligibility.
One argument is that her registration removal means in 2014 she has not been a "qualified elector" – a requirement to be a candidate for office. However, technically Rutledge was just declared a "non-qualified elector" and one can argue that when she filed for office, Pulaski County and the state of Arkansas recognized her as qualified.
Monday, Oct. 6, is also the last day to register to vote for the Nov. 4 general election. There are differing schools of thought as to whether Rutledge re-registering, now that she's been removed by Crane, could rectify the confusion.
Drew Pritt, who says he is a former Democratic primary candidate for state offices and writes a political blog, told Channel 7 News he filed a complaint against Rutledge's voter registration in regard to her candidacy Wednesday evening with the county election commission and plans to pursue getting Rutledge kicked off the ballot.
The Republican Party of Arkansas said Crane violated state and federal law. The GOP is asking for election monitors in Pulaski County and has FOI-ed documents from Crane's office.
"It is shamefully obvious that the old Democrat machine will stop at nothing to keep a well qualified Republican candidate from becoming the next Attorney General of the State of Arkansas,” said Arkansas GOP Chairman Doyle Webb. “Mr. Crane’s actions were clearly unprecedented and in violation of State and Federal law."
Democratic Party of Arkansas chairman Vince Insalaco said Crane was "just doing his job." He questioned if Rutledge was fit to hold the state's top legal post.
“When D.C. lobbyist and Virginia voter Asa Hutchinson moved back to Arkansas, he knew to re-register, so it continues to be confusing as to why Rutledge did not do the same,” said Insalaco. “As someone running to be Arkansas’s top lawyer, it’s disturbing that Rutledge’s own record with the law has been so haphazard.”