Posted 4/23/2013 03:46 pm
Updated 1 year ago
LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday vetoed three bills aimed at overhauling the state's election laws, including measures creating a "voter integrity unit" to investigate fraud and another that would have effectively fired the current Board of Election Commissioners.
Beebe rejected the measures shortly after lawmakers recessed this year's session. In his veto letter, the Democratic governor said he had been urged by election officials from both parties to reject the bills.
"They see them, individually and collectively, as unwarranted attempts to undo a carefully crafted system of checks and balances and divisions of responsibility between the state Board of Election Commissioners, the secretary of state's office and local election commissioners," Beebe wrote. "Their objections to these bills are well-taken."
The proposals were sponsored by Republican Sen. Bryan King of Green Forest, the lawmaker behind legislation requiring voters to show photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Beebe had vetoed that measure, but lawmakers enacted the requirement after overriding the veto.
King said he'll ask the House and Senate to override Tuesday's veto by Beebe. It takes a simple majority to override a governor's veto. The Legislature is scheduled to meet May 17 to consider any overrides and formally adjourn, but lawmakers could be called back before then.
One of the bills would have created a four-member "voter integrity unit" in the secretary of state's office to investigate complaints of election law violations. Beebe said he was worried about giving broad investigative powers to a partisan office. Secretary of State Mark Martin is a Republican.
"Placing such unfettered authority in a partisan-elected office is a profoundly bad idea," he wrote.
Beebe also rejected a bill that would have effectively fired the current seven members of the state Board of Election Commissioners on July 1 and replaced it with a new, nine-member board. It would have removed one of Beebe's appointments to the board and given the lieutenant governor an appointment. It also would have given the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties each an additional appointment.
Beebe said the change would have made the panel "more, not less, partisan."
Beebe also vetoed a measure that would have allowed the state Board of Election Commissioners to remove a county election commissioner. Beebe said the bill set up "mandatory, cumbersome and confusing" procedures for handling complaints about local election commissioners.
King has said he proposed the changes in response to the conviction last year of former state Rep. Hudson Hallum, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit election fraud. He called Beebe's rejection of the measures "a stunt."
"He wants to continue the status quo here in Arkansas that has allowed this fraud to occur over the years," King said.
Beebe has vetoed six bills this legislative session, the most since he vetoed eight bills during his first session as governor in 2007. In addition to King's bills, Beebe has vetoed bills banning most abortions in the state 12 weeks and 20 weeks into a woman's pregnancy. Lawmakers overrode both of those vetoes.
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