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Pulaski Co. Clerk says Sec. of State needs to take responsibility in possible voter purge

Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane said his office is investigating person-by-person who is eligible to vote and who isn't off a flawed list of alleged felons sent out by the Secretary of State's office. (Photo: KATV)
Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane said his office is investigating person-by-person who is eligible to vote and who isn't off a flawed list of alleged felons sent out by the Secretary of State's office. (Photo: KATV)
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Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane calls the situation a “mess” and says at this point, he and 74 other county clerks across Arkansas have been left to deal with the fallout.

Crane is talking about a list compiled by Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office, of nearly 8,000 people reported to be felons, later determined to be flawed.

“It was bad information, they knew it, they should have taken it back,” said Crane.

Crane said he had realized there was a problem with the list he was given very early on. Pulaski County residents made up a little more than 1,800 people on the list distributed by the Secretary of State, according to Crane.

The list had gone out at the end of June, and short thereafter Crane said he contacted the Secretary of State’s office with his concerns and to see how the situation could be rectified. Crane said he requested the Secretary of State contact the state’s voter registration software provider to untag the newly tagged “felons” so it wouldn’t affect voter rolls where other county clerks had not realized the issue yet.

According to Crane, the Secretary of State’s office “dragged out” a response, originally reluctant to do anything. Crane said the Secretary of State’s office eventually agreed that it would untag the people on the flawed list, but only on a county-by-county basis when a county clerk requests it in writing.

“Not statewide, not uniformly - just for the ones who asked,” lamented Crane.

A letter sent out by the Secretary of State’s office at the beginning of July suggested that there were “concerns about the felon data,” and “given this potential, we suggest you proceed with caution when removing individuals from voter registration rolls.”

The July letter goes on to say that, “if individual counties wish, ES&S (software provider) can change the cancellations that were made last week back to an active status.”

But it wasn’t until this week that the Secretary of State’s office decided to “strongly recommend” county clerks contact them to instruct ES&S to “roll back felon removals that have been made by you since the ACIC felon data was released.” According to the letter, only five counties have made the “roll back” request.

The letter dated August 9 stated that the Secretary of State does not have, “the legal authority to deem individuals eligible or ineligible to vote,” instead placing the responsibility on county clerks.

“The Secretary of State should have taken responsibility for what was done, should have pulled it back and should have dealt with it in a responsible manner,” said Crane.

Crane said so far his office has been able to determine nearly 400 people from the flawed ACIC felon data are actually felons and supposed to be removed from county voter rolls. He said his office has sent out letters to those 400 people informing them of their removal.

But Crane said his office has been able to determine that more than 300 people on the list were “completely innocent” and shouldn’t have been on the list at all. His office is still working to determine whether more than half of the 1,800 alleged felons he had received are actually felons or if they’ve had their voting rights restored.

“So far my staff has spent well over 300 hours working on our 1,800 some-odd individuals that were tagged in this county,” said Crane.

Both the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and Democratic Party of Arkansas, along with several state media organizations have utilized the Freedom of Information Act to request the lists of voters part of this possible voter purge, along with correspondence about the lists and other information from the Secretary of State’s office.

Those FOI requests were apparently delayed, the requests said to be very large - the Secretary of State’s office asking for an extension to complete the request, according to Rita Sklar, executive director for the ACLU of Arkansas.

Sklar and a representative from the DPA said they were told the FOI request would be ready on Friday. The Secretary of State’s office had the request ready, according to Sklar, but she claims there was some information missing.

“For this to be done just before an election is extremely suspect,” said Sklar.

Holly Dickson, ACLU legal director, said, “at this point, we will review the records to find out more about the problem and what steps the state has and hasn't taken to restore these lawful voters' rights and to prevent problems like this in the future. If the state doesn't take all appropriate steps with speed, then it will be necessary to seek court intervention.”

The DPA has also threatened legal action against the Secretary of State’s office in regard to their FOI request. In a statement from the DPA’s legal counsel Chris Burks:

“We are reviewing the documents that were finally provided today. Even if we are assured that all public documents have been released, we will likely file suit to ensure that public officials obey the law on time. The Arkansas Constitution reads that political power is inherent in the people. No government official is above the rights of the people.”

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