LITTLE ROCK — A member of the state Board of Election Commissioners filed but later withdrew a complaint Thursday against two Pulaski County election officials for failing to follow the board’s policy on how to handle absentee ballots under the state’s new voter ID law.
The actions by Stuart Soffer of White Hall came a day after the the Pulaski County Election Commission and Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane filed a lawsuit challenging the policy.
Soffer said Thursday he withdrew his complaint after deciding, on reflection, that it might be inappropriate for him to file a complaint with a board of which he is a member. Instead, he said he will propose at an upcoming meeting that the board as a body file a complaint against Pulaski County Election Commission Chairman Leonard Boyle Sr. and member Chris Burks.
Soffer said he believes the commission violated state law by failing to treat as provisional ballots 76 absentee ballots it received without accompanying identification in Tuesday’s millage election for Pulaski Technical College. The Board of Election Commissioners adopted an emergency rule Feb. 28 stating that county election officials should treat such ballots as provisional ballots and give the voters until noon on the Monday after an election to submit ID and have their ballots counted.
Soffer said had directed his complaint against Boyle and Burks because they were the two members of the commission who voted not to follow the emergency rule. The complaint sought a $1,000 fine and referral of Burks, a lawyer, to the state Supreme Court’s Committee on Professional Conduct for a review of his actions.
In advance of Tuesday’s election, the Pulaski County Election Commission requested an attorney general’s opinion on how absentee ballots submitted without a copy of the voter’s ID should be treated under the voter ID law, Act 595 of 2013. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said in a Feb. 10 opinion that the law provides a cure period for in-person voters who fail to show ID, but it does not include a similar provision for absentee voters.
On Tuesday, the commission and the Pulaski County clerk filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court alleging that the board exceeded its authority in adopting the emergency rule and seeking an order declaring the rule invalid.
Soffer said Thursday the commission is required to follow the emergency rule, which he said errs, if it errs at all, on the side of voters.
"The A.G.’s opinion was an opinion. The emergency rule has the force of law," he said.
Boyle said the commission was obliged to follow Act 595.
"The state Board of Election Commissioners I really don’t feel like is the body to change the law. They can only make rules or promulgate rules according to what’s in the law," he said.
Burks said he learned Thursday that no emergency statement was passed with the emergency rule, which he said means that it was not properly promulgated.
"The Pulaski County Board of Election Commissioners seems to have done the right thing in following the attorney general’s advice on the issue," Burks said.
Soffer, a Republican, accused Boyle and Burks, who are Democrats, of pursuing a political agenda and wanting the law to fail. Democratic legislators largely opposed Act 595.
"They’re trying to create an issue where there should not be one," Soffer said.
Boyle responded, "It’s not politically motivated to make the law fail. The law reads on its face that the absentee ballots do not have a cure period. However, provisional ballots and in-person ballots have the cure period, which to me says that there is a bias in the law, that the law itself treats one group of individuals, being the absentee (voters), differently, which in my opinion is wrong."