Arkansas passes 2 bills aimed to tighten election laws


FILE – In this March 23, 2020 file photo, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, right, speaks in Little Rock, Ark. Hutchinson said Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, he will not back former President Donald Trump if he runs for the White House in 2024, saying “it’s time” to move on to different voices in the Republican Party. (Staton Breidenthal/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP, File)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two separate bills have been approved by the Arkansas House and Senate that would tighten restrictions on absentee ballots and prevent people from lingering near polling places.

Both bills passed on Thursday despite the objection of Rep. Fred Love, a Democrat from Little Rock, who equated them to Jim Crow laws, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

“I will tell you this, history will judge this time in the Legislature, and it will show that these laws, all they do is disenfranchise people,” Love said.

Meanwhile, proponents of the bills say they aim to increase election integrity and address problems that they say occurred in the state during the 2020 election.

Voter fraud is extremely rare.

The bill in the House by Republican Rep. Mark Lowery, of Maumelle, would ban the distribution of unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters by designated election officials and would make the possession of more than four absentee ballots by one person a rebuttable presumption of intent to defraud.

“These are necessary reforms to make sure that we have fair and equitable elections,” Lowery said. “We’re trying to make sure that the vote meets the guidelines, the integrity that we would want our elections to have.”

The signatures on absentee ballots will also be required to be compared and match the signatures on voters’ original registration certificates.

The Senate bill by Sen. Kim Hammer, a Republican from Benton, would bar people from entering or remaining in an area within 100 feet of the entrance to a voting site while voting is taking place except for a person entering or leaving the building for “lawful purposes.”

Hammer said the 100-feet “safety zone” is aimed at prohibiting people to camp out and prevent voter intimidation.

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