LITTLE ROCK - Attorney General Dustin McDaniel answered questions at the Capitol today about three bills in his legislative package that would combat election fraud, improve the ballot-initiative process and require background checks for candidates.
McDaniel joined Sen. Keith Ingram, lead sponsor of all three bills, at a news conference to highlight the proposed measures, which are a major part of the Attorney General's legislative agenda.
"We have worked with Sen. Ingram and other legislators to craft legislation that addresses some of the most significant concerns facing our election process," McDaniel said. "These bills would crack down on fraud on absentee ballots and at polling sites, ensure legitimacy in signature-gathering for initiatives and prevent convicted criminals from holding elective office. I am eager to work with the General Assembly to get these bills approved and improve transparency in our elections."
"Democracy works best when the people trust that their vote is sacred and not compromised," Ingram said. "These bills close some of the gaps in our election laws that have been taken advantage of in the past and provide tools to law enforcement to crack down on election rigging, while protecting legitimate voters. I am thankful for the support of the Attorney General and my co-sponsors on these bills to ensure that our elections are fair and transparent, and that our candidates have the integrity that Arkansans deserve."
Senate Bill 343 clarifies the absentee balloting process, adding protections to help prevent fraud. The bill provides specific instructions for election officials regarding their review and consideration of absentee ballots, including a procedure to more closely scrutinize absentee ballots returned to the county clerk by someone other than the voter, known as a "bearer."
Absentee voters would be required to personally seal their envelopes, helping to prevent the possibility of a bearer changing the votes. Those who assist absentee voters in casting their ballots must pledge not to influence the votes, and they would be allowed only to assist up to six people. The bill adds stricter rules for county clerks on accounting for absentee ballots. Candidates would be limited to assisting only a spouse or closely related individual at a polling site.
Another bill to be filed today would make it a Class D felony to knowingly sign a fictitious name or someone else's name on a petition to get a measure on the ballot. Paid canvassers will be required to register with the Secretary of State's office and receive training on the initiative process. Canvassers would also be committing felony petition fraud if they provide compensation to someone in exchange for a signature.
The bill requires any committee or individual raising or spending more than $500 on a ballot measure to file a detailed financial report that includes the name and occupation of each person that contributes more than $50. Expenditures for payments to canvassers, officers and directors of a committee must be on the financial report. Expenditures for advertising, direct mail, travel, office supplies and related expenses must be disclosed.
A third bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Fred Love, would require candidates for any elective office in Arkansas to first undergo a criminal background check to be conducted by the State Police. The State Police would provide the results of the background check to the Secretary of State, who would then inform the candidate whether or not they were potentially unqualified to hold public office due to a previous criminal conviction.
If the candidate chooses not to withdraw his or her candidacy and is elected to office, the candidate would face a penalty of up to $25,000 if removed from office because of his or her ineligibility.