Arkansas Republican officials criticized congressional Democrats’ sweeping election law proposals on Tuesday (March 30) saying they would federalize election laws, while the state Democratic Party chairman said those laws should be federalized and standardized.
The state’s primary election official, GOP Secretary of State John Thurston, was joined by U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman, U.S. Rep. French Hill, and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge – all Republicans – for the press conference. They criticized the “For the People Act,” otherwise known as HR 1, an election reform bill passed by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and SR 1, the Senate version that has yet to be passed.
Republicans in Congress, including members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation, voted against the measure.
Thurston called the bill “one of the biggest government overreaches in the history of our country” and said it would cause irreversible damage to the republic. Specifically, he criticized parts of the bill he said would:
– Eliminate the state’s voter identification requirement that was approved by voters;
– Allow same day voter registration, which he said would make it impossible for poll workers to determine eligibility;
– Allow states to count ballots cast by voters outside of their assigned precinct;
– Allow no-excuse absentee voting and let ballots arriving 10 days after the election be counted; and
– Allow campaign staff and political consultants to collect and deliver absentee ballots.
“This legislation isn’t even subtle in its overreach into state sovereignty and its presumptions as to individuals’ voting privileges and their rights to own their vote,” he said.
Hill criticized other aspects of the bill that would remove states’ ability to draw their own congressional districts and would create public financing of campaigns, forcing taxpayers to fund ads they might disagree with.
“This is a backwards-looking measure that if you thought the elections around the country weren’t great in 2020, this institutionalizes that,” he said.
He and Boozman said the country’s election system, which is administered by states, increases security by having a fragmented system that’s harder for foreign and domestic actors to attack. Cotton called it “a solution in search of a problem” and said it should be called the “For the Corrupt Democratic Officials Act.”
“Arkansans expect, and they can, get easy opportunities to cast their ballots,” he said. “But they also expect their elections to be conducted with integrity and with honesty and with fairness. That’s how elections are conducted now. If the Democrats’ election law is passed, our elections will not be conducted with fairness, with honesty and with integrity.”
He said he doubted Democrats even have 50 votes to pass their version in the Senate, much less the 60 votes they would need to overcome a filibuster. Boozman said Democrats are under such pressure to pass it that they might do away with the filibuster for this bill.
Rutledge said if the bill were to pass, the attorney general’s office would defend the state’s right to conduct elections under the U.S. Constitution.
“We don’t need congressmen/women from out of state determining how we conduct elections in the state of Arkansas,” she said.
Cotton said that solutions to improve elections should come from the state level.
“The fundamental thrust of this bill is to federalize our elections, and if your question is, what is the Republican solution to federalize our elections, my answer is, we don’t have one because we shouldn’t federalize our elections,” he said.
However, Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray said some things need to be federalized, pointing to interstate highway laws, currency and uniform commerce laws. Likewise, standardized voting laws are needed.
“I’d say they argued that we fought the Civil War over states’ rights, too, and they’d be wrong then,” he said.
Gray said elected officials should make it easier to be a part of the process, not harder. For example, sometimes people want to get involved but learn that it’s too late to register for the current election and have to wait two years to vote. He said Thurston should have held a press conference about issues such as rural voting access.
“If you’re elected to office and you’re against making it easier for people to vote, then maybe you’re scared to have to stand on your own rhetoric,” he said.
President Joe Biden praised the legislation for its move to end gerrymandering and restricting voting that targets minorities.
“This landmark legislation is urgently needed to protect that right, to safeguard the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen our democracy. It will rein in the outrageous gerrymandering that distorts our democracy. It will empower the Justice Department to crack down on laws that curtail voting rights along racial lines. It will reform our campaign finance system to amplify the voices of the people — not the powerful. And it will modernize and secure our future elections against all manner of threats,” Biden noted in a statement.