It will be up to county clerks in Arkansas to fix a grand-scale mistake by Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office, and the ability of thousands of people to vote in November’s general election is in limbo as a result.
In a July 6, 2016 letter sent to county clerks throughout the state, Martin’s office said it had issued flawed data the previous month that flagged thousands of state residents with no felony convictions as being ineligible to vote, as well as a large number of ex-felons who had previously had their voting rights restored.
According to the Arkansas Times, the Secretary of State’s office “seemingly washed its hands of the error” after sending the letter. Martin denied any constitutional responsibility to correct the mistake or offer guidance to the county clerks. According to spokesperson Chris Powell, “We house the data, but [clerks] are the official voting registrars of their county. We do not add or remove anyone. I can’t speak for what any individual counties were doing.”
Many of the county clerks contacted by the Times said they simply canceled the registrations of all the flagged voters, then notified them they could no longer vote; others have reinstated every canceled registration and are now reviewing the list of names to be purged one by one. The exact number of wrongful disenfranchisement cases is unclear.
Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane said the Secretary of State sent him a list with around 2,000 names to be removed from the electoral rolls. He had reviewed around 600 cases as of August 1, 2016 and found only 200 had felonies that precluded them from voting while another 119 were “innocent bystanders.” The other names required additional review.
The problem apparently occurred when the Secretary of State’s office, which previously obtained criminal justice data from Arkansas Community Correction, switched to the Arkansas Crime Information Center.
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