As lawmakers inside the Capitol juggled a laundry list of attacks on voting rights, a lively lunchtime crowd of voter advocates rallied outside for ballot access and fair elections.
“Am I too old for civil disobedience?” asked Harvey Joe Sanner, a leather vest-wearing election commissioner from Prairie County who kicked off the rally. Sanner said he’s never been more ashamed of his government as he is today, as lawmakers push forward a raft of measures to effectively shrink the pool of eligible voters.
As an election commissioner, Sanner got a front-row seat to the high-stakes vote counting process of the 2020 general election. And according to Sanner, it all went fine. “There never was voter fraud. It was all a campaign to cause chaos and turmoil,” he said.
Sanner was the first speaker in the lineup of experts calling on Arkansans to push back against lawmakers who are touting voter fraud as an excuse to limit voting rights. Measures already passed or now being considered in Arkansas include a no-exceptions ID requirement, a shortened early voting period and a ban on volunteers handing out water or food to people in line to vote.
Selling the “Big Lie” that President Biden stole the 2020 election and that we therefore should tighten election procedures is a seductive dupe for disheartened Republicans, Sanner said. Pointing out that the democratic system held strong despite intense pressure and heavy voter turnout in a pandemic isn’t as flashy a message. “You know how well a negative sells, and how hard a positive is to get sold,” he said.
Arkansas is under attack from the same voter suppression efforts drawing national attention to Georgia, where giant corporations and athletic associations are using their power for good.
“It’s a sad day when corporate America has to teach the Republican party about ethics and morals,” Sanner said.
Nell Matthews with the League of Women Voters encouraged people to let their representatives know they want easy access to the ballot box. And attorney John Adams, who litigates a lot of voting rights cases, said now is the time to get loud, because we can’t assume bills curtailing voting rights will get struck down by the courts. Adams praised Rep. Andrew Collins (D-Little Rock) for his bill, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Breanne Davis of Russellville, to ensuring voters can go online beforehand to see what their ballots will look so they can have their choices made when they show up to vote. Collins, Rep. Denise Ennett (D-Little Rock) and Senators Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) and Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) joined the rally crowd.
Pulaski County Election Commissioner Joshua Ang Price, the sole Democrat on the three-member commission, said making sure votes count is both a responsibility and an honor.
Price spend many late nights going through the ballots of Pulaski County voters in November. “There was no voter fraud in Pulaski County. Not one case of voter fraud,” he said. Price pointed out that all 75 election commissions in Arkansas are controlled by a Republican majority. And yet, none of them were able to produce any evidence of fraud. “It’s another false narrative to try to oppress our votes,” Price said.
Measures under consideration by Arkansas lawmakers right now would kick tens of thousands of people off the voter rolls in Pulaski County alone, he said. And some of them are “cruel and unnecessary.”
“You can’t bring a grandmother a bottle of water while she’s in line to vote? What are we doing here?” Price said.
The rally, organized by pro-democracy groups For AR People, the League of Women Voters and Indivisible, aimed to let voters know about attacks on voting rights and energize them to contact their lawmakers. The groups issued a call to action to connect concerned voters with their lawmakers.