Forget voter registration issue, Leslie Rutledge's ignorance of law and attacks on county clerk make her unfit to be attorney general | Arkansas Blog

Forget voter registration issue, Leslie Rutledge's ignorance of law and attacks on county clerk make her unfit to be attorney general

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Leslie Rutledge
  • Leslie Rutledge
Republican candidate for attorney general Leslie Rutledge is positively hyperventilating over Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane's cancellation of her voter registration. This morning, her campaign emailed out a press release with the heading, "Unbelievable," in which Rutledge calls Crane's action "desperate Chicago-style, partisan politics," a "reprehensible and ... desperate attempt to help the campaign of a Democratic candidate," "arbitrar[y] and without cause" and a "case of big bureaucrat, big government, crooked politics interfering with a basic government right." She also said Crane violated state and federal law.

She's wrong.

Here are the facts: Last week, Crane received a complaint in the form of a letter from a group billing itself as the Arkansas Libertarian Coalition and addressed to "all concerned members of the media and political party machinery" that alleged that Rutledge was ineligible to vote or hold office because she was registered in multiple states and included a copy of her registration in Washington, D.C and Alexandria, Va. Crane's office was compelled to investigate the complaint by Amendment 51 of the Arkansas Constitution. It found that Rutledge was registered to vote in Pulaski County, D.C. and Virginia. So Crane cancelled her registration — again as he's compelled to do by Amendment 51.

Rutledge's release includes a picture of a Pulaski County voter registration card dated 3/8/13 as proof that she's a qualified voter. That's insignificant, Crane said. 

"As opposed to filing an application for registration, she filled out a change of address form, where she said she had moved from [one house to Little Rock to another]. That form, at the top of it, says, 'This form is only valid for address and or name changes within Pulaski County.' Down at the bottom it says, 'When moving to Pulaski County from another county or state, you must complete a new voter registration.' "

Rutledge clearly forgot to do that last part.

On top of attacking Crane for doing his job, Rutledge tries to pin her out-of-date registration info on him, too.

Mr. Crane was responsible for notifying prior jurisdictions upon his registration of me as a voter in Pulaski County in accordance with the Arkansas Constitution, Amend. 51, Section 11(b) which states: It shall be the duty of the permanent registrar of each county upon the registration of a person who has been registered previously in another county or state to notify promptly the permanent registrar of such other county or state of the new registration. In my case, this was not done. 

On its face, this is a really dumb argument: "Upon registering me, the clerk should've searched the country to find out if I was registered elsewhere and let them know about it." As Benji Hardy and David Ramsey have pointed out, this is a common occurrence, but to suggest that a clerk should scour counties across the country for duplicate information is ludicrous. More importantly, the bit of the state Constitution above doesn't apply here because Rutledge didn't re-register after returning from Washington D.C. and Virginia; she merely filled out a change of address form. That doesn't trigger the law she cites above.

Rutledge registered to vote in Pulaski County in 2006, in D.C. in 2008 and in Virginia in 2010. Last year, she filed a change of address form to change the Little Rock address she'd registered in 2006 to a new one, also in Little Rock. In 2008, D.C.'s voter registrant should have notified the Pulaski County Clerk of Rutledge's new registration. It didn't, according to Amanda Mitchell, acting Pulaski County attorney. Once Rutledge registered in Virginia, its election officials should've notified D.C.'s, but that apparently didn't happen either. 

That sort of bureaucratic bumbling would make Rutledge's case sympathetic if she weren't so viciously attacking Crane, who's merely following the law, something Rutledge probably should know more about if she wants to be the state's top legal official.

The federal law Rutledge's camp alleges Crane violated is the National Voter Registration Act, specifically Section 6, which requires that a state complete "any program the purpose of which is to systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters" within 90 days. The law does, however, allow for "the removal of names ... as a "correction of registration records," which County attorney Mitchell said is what's happening here. Also, she said the "systematically remove" language refers to the process by which, every two years, county clerks put voters who haven't voted in two years on inactive status. 

Bottom line: This federal law and Rutledge's situation? "It's apples and oranges," Crane said.

County Clerk's are autonomous actors; there's no review by the Secretary of State's office or the Board of Election Commissioners. If Rutledge wants to contest Crane's decision, she'd have to file a lawsuit. I've asked her campaign if one is forthcoming. In any case, she only has a few days to register to vote before she passes the 30-day cut-off prior to the election if she's going to vote for herself. If she's still on the ballot.

In a statement, Secretary of Mark Martin casted aspersions on Crane without saying anything definitive.

“My role as Chief Elections Official is to protect all voters’ rights, whether you’re a candidate on the ballot or a citizen of Arkansas. There are very limited circumstances in which a county clerk can remove a voter from the voter registration rolls. The law is clear under the National Voter Registration Act Section 52 USC § 20507 and Arkansas Constitution Amendment 51 § 11,” said Secretary of State Mark Martin. “If a county clerk violates federal election law, then it becomes a matter for the U.S. Attorney.”

The state Board of Elections Commissioners is charged with investigating alleged election violations. Rutledge filing an affidavit of eligibility when she wasn't, in fact, eligible seems like it could be a violation. Board of Elections Commissioners director Justin Clay said the board could only investigate a violation in response to a complaint. None had been filed against Rutledge this morning.

Here's Democratic Party chair Vincent Insalaco's statement:

Late yesterday, it was reported that the Republican candidate for Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, was removed from the voter rolls in Pulaski County due to her ineligible voter status. When she moved back from Washington, DC, she failed to re-register in Arkansas, when the instructions clearly require it. The news calls into question Ms. Rutledge’s votes in Arkansas over the past 3 years, her vote in November 2008, and her very candidacy in a statewide race.

“After a thousand eligible voters had their absentee ballots thrown out earlier this year following the implementation of more rigorous voting guidelines, it turns out that there are serious questions surrounding candidate for Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s voter status in the state. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane was just doing his job,” said Vincent Insalaco, Chair of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. “If Ms. Rutledge cannot personally abide by the very law she vigorously defends and the standards to which she hold others, than how can she go on to effectively be the state’s lead attorney?”

“When DC Lobbyist and Virginia voter Asa Hutchinson moved back to Arkansas, he knew to re-register, so it continues to be confusing as to why Rutledge did not do the same,” Insalaco continued. “As someone running to be Arkansas’s top lawyer, it’s disturbing that Rutledge’s own record with the law has been so haphazard.”

UPDATE:

The Republican Party of Arkansas weighs in with more attacks on Crane.

“It is shamefully obvious that the old Democrat machine will stop at nothing to keep a well qualified Republican candidate from becoming the next Attorney General of the State of Arkansas,” said Chairman Webb. “Mr. Crane’s actions were clearly unprecedented and in violation of State and Federal law. The people of Arkansas will overwhelmingly elect Leslie Rutledge and in so doing, continue to reject the corrupt, Democrat politics of the previous one-party system.”

“In light of yesterday’s alarming revelations, we have first begun with a request to the State Board of Election Commissioners seeking an appointment of a certified election monitor to makes sure the integrity of the vote in Pulaski County is upheld since Mr. Crane is obviously playing partisan politics,” said Tollett. “I have directed FOIA’s to his office in hopes of discovering who else he may have thrown off the voters rolls in the last year and what partisan communications may be going on between his office and Democrat strategists, operatives and candidates.” 

UPDATE II (5:39 p.m.):

We've received word that local political gadfly and former candidate Drew Pritt has filed a complaint against Rutledge concerning the sworn affidavit she signed when she filed to run for elected office. That affidavit stated that Rutledge was indeed qualified to be a candidate.

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