Pulaski County election chief asks 57,000 voters to return registration notices

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 399 views 

Pulaski County Circuit Court Clerk Terri Hollingsworth speaks to reporters about voter registration notices.

Newly-elected Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Terri Hollingsworth told reporters Thursday (April 25) that her office has sent out nearly 57,000 notifications requiring inactive voters to confirm or update their registration information.

The 56,697 envelope-sized postcards sent out a week ago include nearly 4,000 cancellations notices mailed to registered voters who have not participated in a recent local election, some since 2012. Those voters could possibly be removed from voter rolls in the upcoming 2020 general and presidential election if they don’t respond, she said.

Hollingsworth, the first black woman elected to county-wide office in Pulaski County history during the November 2018 election, said efforts by her office are in keeping with federal law, including the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).

“If a registered voter receives one of these cards, all they need to do is respond,” Hollingsworth said during a press event at the downtown courthouse. “This is not junk mail so please don’t ignore it or throw it away before reading it. We just need you to respond to the notification because it will make voting easier in 2020.”

In her history-making campaign in the 2018, Hollingsworth ran on a platform of making voting easier and more accessible to Pulaski County residents. In defeating Republican opponent Steve Walden, the Little Rock native said she hoped to restore voting rights for convicted felons, upgrade local voting equipment, improve voter education efforts, and provide internships and youth employment programs locally.

Hollingsworth emphasized those local voters receiving a notice should respond by calling her office, or by filling out and returning the NVRA postcard form to county election officials. Active voters who participated in the 2018 midterms and other recent elections are not among those receiving the postcard notices in the mail, she said.

SUPREME COURT RULING IMPACT
Every two years, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission reports to Congress on the impact of NVRA on the administration of federal elections and provides information to states on their local election responsibilities. Under that same act, local election officials can remove a registrant’s name from the list of eligible voters, if information is confirmed in writing by the voter.

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Supreme court passed a narrow ruling in “Husted v A. Phillip Randolph Institute” that allowed the state of Ohio to strike the name of a voter from the rolls in 2015 because he had not participated in earlier elections. Election officials said they sent Ohio resident Larry Harmon a notice asking him to confirm his voting eligibility, but said he couldn’t recall ever receiving such a notice so he could not respond.

In the original ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District, the court ruled that Ohio election officials violated the 1993 act because it used non-voting as a trigger for sending the notices, and then removed Harmon’s name from the voting rolls after he did not vote for the next four years.

However, in its 5-4 ruling on June 11, 2018, the Supreme Court said the method Ohio uses to remove voters on “change-of-residence” grounds does not violate the NVRA. At the time, President Donald Trump’s administration sided with the state of Ohio, reversing an earlier stance by President Barack Obama that the Buckeye State’s policy and other similar state laws violated the 1993 act. (Link here for a PDF of the ruling.)

NO VOTER PURGES
In responding to reporter’s questions about possible “purging” concerns, Hollingsworth said the 4,000 voters receiving cancellation notices had not interacted with Pulaski County election officials in “many years” and had not voted in multiple election cycles, going back to 2012. Not only have those voters not participated in the recent elections, she said, they also have not updated their addresses, state ID or other pertinent information necessary to vote.

“We are required by federal and state law to send out these notifications, (and) the process has been tested by the Supreme Court of the United States …,” said the county chief election official, citing the June 2018 ruling.

At her first press conference since taking office, Hollingsworth said gathering, confirming and updating voter information will allow her office to maintain registration lists for the county, as required by federal law. She also said the NVRA notices are in keeping with her campaign promise to improve access for all Pulaski County residents to participate in the election process, a hallmark of American democracy.

“Our intention is to make it easier for voters to vote, and we will want to maintain their voter registration,” she said. “As the county registrar and county clerk, I am responsible for maintaining the voter registration list for Pulaski County.”

Hollingsworth said she was making “a big deal” out of pushing voters to confirm or update registration information, even though past efforts have failed to rouse awareness and have only resulted in about 10% response rate.

“I am hoping we get more people to respond,” she said, noting that 1,500 persons have returned the notices to date. “I am optimistic and idealistic and all that, so I want to see at least half come back.”

In the 2018 midterm elections, 898,793 of the state’s 1,784,015 registered voters, or 50.4%, cast a ballot statewide. In Pulaski County, the state’s largest county by population, 54.6% or 135,549 of the 248,100 registered voters showed up at the polls, according to election data from the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office.

Hollingsworth recently appeared on Talk Business & Politics. Her interview can be viewed in the video below.

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