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Arkansas 'Election Integrity Unit' Bill Awaits Gov's Signature

This story was originally published by Public News Service.

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is expected to sign a bill to create an Election Integrity Unit in the state Attorney General's office. Its goal will be to investigate potential voter fraud, but critics question whether voter fraud is an issue in Arkansas.

House Bill 1513 was sponsored by Rep. Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville.

Bonnie Miller, president of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas, said the bill appears to be a remedy in search of a problem. Miller pointed out there are real issues related to election security, but voter fraud is not one of them, especially in Arkansas.

"We do not support the formation of an elections police unit because of the narrow mandate to root out such a rare crime," Miller explained. "We don't want to criminalize elections law by imbuing prosecutors with new powers, expanding the list of election-related crimes, and beefing up punishments for technical violations."

Miller pointed out the bill is based on Florida's Election Crimes Task Force, part of a broader push for more restrictive voting laws. She added state legislatures in Texas, Ohio and Missouri have also proposed and passed such bills, essentially creating new law enforcement teams to investigate claims of voter fraud.

Miller added the real issues the League wants to see address are protections for voters, poll workers, election staff, and securing voting equipment. She contended the legislation might be another way to intimidate groups or chip away at the democratic process.

"The steps that the General Assembly just took to promote 'election integrity' is really just about justifying it to make it more difficult for people to vote," Miller argued. "These investigations we know are going to intimidate voters particularly those of color, while perpetuating the notion -- that false notion -- that voter fraud is a significant concern."

Miller emphasized there has been no election official in Arkansas or the nation who has substantiated any election fraud claims. Even during the pandemic, the 2020 election saw a rise in votes cast by absentee ballot, and Secretary of State John Thurston said Arkansas' elections were secure and without incidents of fraud.