LITTLE ROCK – During the 2023 session, the Arkansas legislature enacted a lengthy list of new laws to strengthen the integrity of the elections.
Act 620 grants more power to the state Board of Election Commissioners to detect and prevent voter fraud. The board has been conducting an audit after each general election, and Act 620 requires an audit after primary elections also. The new law sets up a review of elections every two years for the board to investigate any indications of wrongdoing, primarily in absentee voting and voter registration.
Act 620 makes it a felony to forge someone's signature on applications for voter registration or for absentee ballots.
Act 444 outlines the rights of poll watchers, to ensure access to all parts of the election process. Poll watchers must complete an online training course, set up by the state board of Election Commissioners.
The main goal of Act 444 is to make sure that poll watchers have uniform and fair access to all stages of the voting process. For example, they're to be allowed within three to six feet of the check-in area.
Poll watchers may bring a list of eligible voters and may challenge a ballot by speaking to an election official. However, they may not interfere with anyone's ability to vote, either by harassment, intimidation or coercion. They must wear name tags and may not wear political badges promoting a candidate or an issue.
Act 441 requires the Secretary of State to use multiple strategies to ensure the integrity of voter registration lists.
One strategy is to compare our lists with those in other states, to prevent a person from registering and voting in more than one state. Another strategy is to make full use of the Social Security Administration's file of people who have died.
The Secretary of State's office will develop an address verification process. The office will report annually to the legislative Joint Performance Review Committee on the accuracy of voter registration records.
Act 353 prohibits county election officials from using a drop box for the collection of absentee ballots. Unless absentee ballots are sent through the mail, they must be delivered into the hands of someone in the physical office of the county clerk.
Act 320 also tightens the rules governing absentee ballots. It requires anyone who goes to the county clerk to drop off absentee ballots for another person to present a photo ID. Anyone who helps a voter fill out an application for an absentee ballot must provide his or her name, address and signature on the application.
Act 320 prohibits county clerks from distributing unsolicited absentee ballots or applications to potential voters. County clerks may make the applications generally available online or in their office.
Act 141 creates a new criteria to allow a voter to use an absentee ballot. If you are prevented from voting in person due to an observance of your religious discipline or due to a religious holiday, you will be eligible to vote absentee.
Act 462 changes the laws governing the creation of new political parties. It requires 10,000 signatures to establish a new political party ballot. The threshold had been 3 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent race or governor.
Editor's note: Sen. Joshua Bryant represents District 32 in Arkansas. He and his family live in Rogers. He serves on the Committee of Education and the committee on City, County and Local Affairs