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Changes to election laws headed to Arkansas governor's desk

Some Arkansas legislators say the changes tighten voter security, others say they make it harder for Arkansans to vote.

ARKANSAS, USA — Changes to Arkansas election laws, including limiting access outside polling places and restricting absentee ballots, have been approved by Arkansas lawmakers and are headed to Governor Asa Hutchinson's desk for signature. 

Senate Bill (SB) 486 and House Bill (HB) 1715 passed the majority-Republican Arkansas House and Senate this month. 

SB486 bars anyone from 100 feet of the primary exterior entrance to a building where voting occurs except for a person entering or leaving a building where voting is taking place for lawful purposes. 

The measure passed the Arkansas House by a vote of 74-23 and the Senate 27-7. 

The co-sponsor of SB486, Rep. Karilyn Brown (R-Sherwood), told the Associated Press lawmakers drafted the bill in response to voters' complaints about groups handing out water, sandwiches or other items outside polling sites. 

Arkansas law already bans campaigning outside polling places. 

HB1715, approved by the Arkansas House 74-22 and the Senate 27-8, requires voters' signatures on absentee ballots to match the signature from their voter registration application unless the application is sent by electronic means. 

The bill also makes the possession of more than four absentee ballots by one person a rebuttable presumption of intent to defraud and prohibits county clerks or other designated election officials from providing unsolicited absentee ballots to votes. County clerks and election officials can still provide materials to qualified voters through printable or downloadable absentee ballot application forms on the internet, post links to the absentee ballot application form on social media of any type, and make paper copies of absentee ballot application forms available for distribution or to be available upon request by qualified voters in the county clerk's office or other government offices. 

Governor Hutchinson's spokeswoman told the Associated Press he was reviewing the measures but is anticipated to sign them. 

Changes to voter laws have garnered support from Republican lawmakers across the U.S. and sparked pushback from Democrats and large corporations. 

Dozens of the nation's largest corporations (including Amazon, American Airlines, Bank of America, Google and Best Buy) and business leaders signed a statement objecting to “any discriminatory legislation."

Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director, said "Legislators are moving at breakneck speed to erect new barriers to the ballot that will disproportionately impact voters of color, as well as elderly and low-income Arkansans." 

Supporters of the bills say that they are intended to tighten election security, a message spawned from former-President Donald Trump's claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him due to fraud following historic voter turnout. 

There has been no reputable proof that voter fraud impacted the 2020 election results. 

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