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Arkansas lawmaker files bill to automatically register voters at DMV

State Representative Charles Blake has pre-filed legislation for Arkansas's 2019 Legislative Session that intends to make several reforms to the state's voter registration system. (Photo: KATV)

Since KATV aired a story reporting issues involving voter registration at Arkansas Revenue Offices, several more Arkansans have said the same thing has happened to them, and now at least one lawmaker is hoping to fix the system.

"I'm still frustrated, but I was very frustrated," said Ashli Mitchell, who previously shared her story with KATV about going to early vote and discovering she wasn't on the voter rolls, despite registering to vote at her local Revenue Office.

After the story was posted to Facebook, several other viewers commented on the story saying the same thing had happened to them. Many knew to check for their voter registration cards before it was too late, but others like Mitchell got the surprise at the ballot box.

According to a tweet from a person claiming to work for the Revenue Office in Benton, they apparently urge people not to register to vote there because of the likelihood of motor voter registration not making it to the local county clerk's office. That tweet has apparently been taken down by its owner since this story aired.

"If the system is not allowing someone who has tried to register to be able to register to vote, then the system is broken," said State Representative Charles Blake, (D-House District 36).

Blake filed HB 1004, the Voter Integrity and Security Act, about a week-and-a-half ago; the bill seeks to automatically register eligible voters at the DMV, unless they request not to be registered. The bill also intends to define voter intimidation as a felony, streamline the current DMV voter registration system, and remove deceased voters from the rolls more quickly.

If the legislature intends to be serious about voting security, it starts at voter registration, according to Rep. Blake.

The bill is very similar to legislation Blake attempted to pass in the 2017 legislative session - The Democracy Act - also HB 1004. Blake said the bill met opposition from the Secretary of State's Office and his colleagues across the aisle were concerned about the cost of making it happen.

"The initial bill was going to cost close to $42,000," said Blake. "Some of my Republican colleagues has some heartburn over that $42,000."

While Blake still thinks that $42,000 is "pennies" when compared to the bigger picture of the state budget, over the last year he says he's worked with the Secretary of State's office to understand the system better and help bring the cost of implementing HB 1004 to nothing. Blake said the bill is being analyzed by the Department of Finance and Administration to make sure his zero-dollar cost calculations are correct.

KATV reached out to the Secretary of State-elect John Thurston for his reaction to Channel 7's story about voter registration issues at the DMV and Rep. Blake's bill. Thurston said he had no comment at this time.

According to Chris Powell, director of communications for Secretary of State Mark Martin, the office is still corresponding with the Department of Finance and Administration in an attempt "to track down more specifics" in Ashli Mitchell's case of lost voter registration.

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