Speaking only for myself as a state election commissioner. HB1447 will essentially politicize and effectively make the State Board of Election Commissioners inconsequential by placing it under Secretary of State. It’s introduction came as a complete surprise to both the staff and commissioners. I am disappointed we were not given the courtesy of advance notice and providing input by whomever asked for it to be introduced. I know one of the sponsors and am confident she would not have sponsored HB1447 had she been aware of events and with the knowledge the state board was not consulted. This afternoon, I requested in writing to the Secretary of State (who chairs the state board) to call an emergency meeting by Friday so the board as a whole can address HB1447. I anticipate at least three other commissioners will do the same – as required by law.
A similar bill was introduced in the 89th General Assembly and the state board unanimously opposed it. I anticipate no less an outcome this time. The concept I would like to see addressed is creating an independent Arkansas Election Agency incorporating much of what Secretary of State Elections Division does with what the state board is responsible for. The way to ensure non-partisan independence is for key personnel decisions to be made by 2/3 vote of the appropriate joint committee. That would retain institutional memory each time there is a change in Secretary of State, a concept that has been very successful in other states.
I and others have been working diligently for over 6 years, with 4 as a member of the state board, to improve the election process in Arkansas and in particular how we respond to citizen complaints. Folding the state board under an already overwhelmed executive office will not serve any useful purpose.