The state's move toward implementing a new voter ID law and Thursday's sentencing of former Arkansas lawmaker Hudson Hallum for election fraud have raised some questions about upholding the integrity of the election process in our state.
Hallum was sentenced in federal court in Little Rock to one year of home detention and three years probation. He was also fined $20,000 and must serve 100 hours of community service.
The former Democratic representative from Marion pleaded guilty in September to bribing voters and using absentee ballots to commit fraud in the 2011 election for his seat. He resigned days after pleading guilty.
“No question that this case had large repercussions in our state," says Art English, a professor of political science at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
“That's what causes the tremendous amount of distrust we have in our system. It only takes a couple of situations like that and people think politicians are all crooks. Well, that's not the case,” says English.
English says it's important to understand the state has made strides in reducing election fraud.
“Arkansas has had a history way back in the 1960s, the 1950s, and even going back to the '20s and '30s where there was a good deal of election fraud and that primarily was because of election officials who controlled election commissions,” notes English.
English says the two-party system has helped. Now, at least one person on the election commission has to be a member of the minority party, creating a system of checks and balances.
In Hallum's case, absentee ballots were used to commit fraud. One of the issues raised over the new voter ID law is that voter ID would not be required for absentee ballots and this is setting a lesser standard for those ballots.
“We're dealing with folks who obviously can not get to the polling place – shut-ins, nursing homes, assisted living, those who are in the armed services – so I'm not sure exactly how the new law might address that,” says English.
At his sentencing, Hallum said he violated the trust of his constituents and was ready to accept the consequences. It's a case supporters of the new voter ID law held up as highlighting a need for voter ID, while opponents argued the voter ID law did not address absentee ballots and that fraud in the Hallum case was caught using existing systems that worked.