Columns » Max Brantley

Meanwhile, back in Arkansas

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Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin got some glowing coverage in Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for arranging an award from the national association of secretaries of state for the Little Rock Nine and their brave desegregation of Central High School 60 years ago.

They were deserving, including when President Clinton gave them congressional medals back in 1999. But the present-day irony was rich.

Martin, thankfully term-limited, basked in the Nine's reflected glory on a junket to Washington during the same week the Center for American Progress gave Arkansas's election security a grade between F and D, one of the five worst states in the country for protecting ballot integrity. Martin's office's biggest duty, apart from cutting the grass at the Capitol, is overseeing elections.

The center's report said, first of all, that Arkansas allows the use of voting machines that do not provide a paper record and fails to mandate post-election audits, which is intended to confirm that ballots are cast and counted as the voter intended.

There were many other points, some ticky, some not. The biggest problem seemed to be that Mark Martin refused to talk with those doing the survey, allowing him now to say they got it all wrong.

Martin also joined the Nine a couple of days before a report that says his office had failed to catch a minor goof, misapplication of state special election rules in hours of early voting for a state representative election in Searcy County.

It's possible our system is better than the report indicates. But Martin is a haughty and irresponsible secretary of state. He doesn't talk with the media. What's more concerning is his friendship with Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who's made a career of alleging voter fraud without evidence and coming up with vote suppression schemes.

Martin played along with a badly flawed crosscheck system of Kobach's that illustrated conclusively, for example, that people named Joe Smith were registered in multiple states. What it DID NOT conclusively prove was that they were the same Joe Smiths or that anyone had voted illegally. (This system did illustrate — tee hee — that Republican Leslie Rutledge, then a candidate for attorney general, was registered to vote in two different jurisdictions.)

When Donald Trump put Kobach in charge of a national vote integrity commission, it was another Laurel and Hardy misadventure. But it was funny only if you don't think the sanctity of the vote is important. Kobach intended to use a vast data gathering operation to be put to use in his campaign to purge voter rolls of people he finds unacceptable. Even Republican election officials rose up against Kobach in outrage. Not Martin. He was the first to send the entire data file on Arkansas voters to Kobach. Others refused a resistance that ultimately shut the operation down.

The Kobach and Martin work on voter fraud is part of the larger Republican Party effort to purge voter rolls through dubious "caging" practices and to require cumbersome photo IDs as a means of tamping down voting by poor people, who disproportionately happen to be black.

Fine as honors for the Little Rock Nine from anyone might be, I cringed at the sight of those good people posing for a grip-and-grin photo with Mark Martin. Neither his office nor his party has done much to advance the cause for which they put their young lives on the line.

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