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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

UPDATE: County clerks dispute secretary of state employee's claim on illegal voters

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 10:51 AM

BACKLASH: Alex Reeds remarks draw response from county clerks.
  • BACKLASH: Alex Reed's remarks draw response from county clerks.
The bipartisan Arkansas Association of County Clerks has issued a statement taking exception to remarks by Secretary of State Mark Martin's aide, Alex Reed, suggesting county clerks were at fault for registration of illegal immigrants as voters in Arkansas. He said election of Republicans would cure things in speaking to a group of Union County Republicans.

Here's the whole rundown of those remarks.

The statement:

The Arkansas Association of County Clerks polled its members this week in an effort to investigate recent claims by Secretary of State staffer Alex Reed that the state has an issue with illegal immigrants registering to vote. The association polled all 75 counties across the state.

“When Mr. Reed’s allegations first surfaced, we did not perceive there to be an issue with illegal immigrants registering to vote in our courthouses across Arkansas,” said Rhonda Cole, Arkansas Association of County Clerks president and Clark County Clerk. “However, rather than simply reacting in the heat of the moment to these comments, we thought it would be in the best interest of Arkansas taxpayers to have a conversation statewide among county clerks. In doing so, we found no evidence of illegal immigrants registering to vote.”

“I’m a proud Republican, but what’s important to me as a county clerk is to serve the people of Arkansas and my community regardless of political views,” said Crystal Graddy, Arkansas Association of County Clerks secretary and Boone County Clerk. “I am disappointed by the comments and the ensuing false perception of county clerks. I think it is vital to represent your office in a nonpartisan manner. I certainly don’t ask taxpayers that come into our office if they are Democrat or Republican.”

Cole, who is a Democrat, echoed her fellow clerk’s comments concerning county clerks and partisan politics.

“The county clerks association works with Republicans and Democrats alike,” Cole said. “County clerks are hard-working public servants who are in the trenches ensuring fair, legal and efficient elections and they do an outstanding job. We’re here to serve the taxpayers regardless of political affiliations and the Association of Arkansas County Clerks emphatically supports our members and their performance. To describe county clerks or their actions as ‘disgraceful’ is unjust, unwarranted and uninformed.”

The Association of Arkansas County Clerks is a nonpartisan organization focused on providing a medium for exchange of ideas and instituting and promoting training and education of county clerks in the latest and most efficient methods of public administration.

I've sought a response from Martin's office.

UPDATE: SOS spokesman Mark Myers responded:

If Ms. Cole would like to discuss this issue with me, then I am happy to discuss it with her. We have said all we are going to say to you on this issue. You can refer to my previous comments about the office's position vis-a-vis the clerks' performance.

Meanwhile, a Times' editorial this week has a comment on the matter.

UPDATE: Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane has also called for an apology from Mark Martin's office and complains about the quality of assistance his office has received from the secretary of state. He said the office had been tardy in providing lists of deceased voters so they could be removed from rolls. I got a real response on this one.

NEWS RELEASE

Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, who is responsible for maintaining the voter registration list for the state’s most populous county, called on Secretary of State Mark Martin to retract statements made by his office at a Republican county committee meeting last week and to apologize to county and local election officials.

“I read the news reports last week reporting remarks made by Mark Martin’s spokesman attacking the accuracy of the work performed by Democratic county clerks.” Crane said. “When I listened to the audio and realized his office called into question whether my office and other county clerks are ignoring the lists of deceased voters Mark Martin’s office is required to send us, I was incensed,” Crane added.

As a featured speaker at a meeting of the Union County Republican Committee meeting last week, Alex Reed responded to an audience question about the process of removing ineligible voters such as convicted felons and deceased voters from voter registration lists. Reed said his office sends county clerks those lists each month and that the clerks “are supposed to cancel those [names] out.” Reed then added, “Do they? I’m not sure.” See transcript, below.

“Getting those lists of deceased voters from the Secretary of State’s office has been like pulling teeth. Earlier this year, we did not receive lists from Martin's office for literally months. We even investigated whether we could get the information directly from other state agencies and totally bypass the Secretary of State's office. Finally, I personally met with Carol Ann Smith, who works for Mark Martin. I promised her that the first time I heard a Republican (or anyone else) complain about deceased folks being allowed to vote in Arkansas I would let the public know that Mark Martin’s office had failed to provide that information to county clerks. (I may even have shaken my finger at her!) That shook them loose. Within the next few days, the lists were finally provided to us from Mark Martin’s office. We immediately processed the information and removed the deceased voters from the list of registered voters. I honestly don’t know if we would have ever gotten the lists if I had not called their hand on being the source of any problem!” Crane said.

In closing, Crane offered, “Mark Martin and Alex Reed owe my hardworking staff and other county-level elections officials and employees an apology. It’s shameful that Martin would allow his employee, Alex Reed, to spread those kinds of untruths… about a system of government they are a part of and about hard-working local officials who do difficult jobs well every day and who did nothing to deserve such open disdain.”

The transcript of the topic exchange by Alex Reed is below:


[26:50] Female: “There’s not screening process, if you’re an ex-con? Or — “
Reed: “There are… There are different flags and we go through many of them. Like when you die, we get a list from the Department of Health every month, and we send them out to county clerks. And, and they are supposed to cancel those out. Do they? I’m not sure.”

[27:08] Male: “You mean supposed to by statute?”
Reed: “Yes.”
Male: “Is there a penalty?”
Reed: “No.”
Male: “Explain.”
[Audience Laughter]
Reed: “There’s. There probably should be. Yeah, there probably should be some more screenings on that.”

RESPONSE FROM MARK MYERS OF SECRETARY OF STATE

Mr. Crane is incorrect. Our office made no such statements at any meeting. He needs to get his facts straight. Mr. Reed was expressing his opinion in response to a hypothetical question on his own time as the transcript indicates. To be clear, Mr. Reed was not on state time, in a state vehicle, or expressing any opinion on behalf of the office.

Carolyn Ann Smith works for me so I well remember the incident Mr. Crane mentions.

The Arkansas Department of Health provides the county clerks and our office with copies of death certificates. There were a couple of months at one point where there was a snafu in our office getting electronic copies from ADH. We also lost an employee in the voter registration section unexpectedly to the State Board of Election Commissioners. These twin events led to us being delayed in forwarding the notices.

As soon as Mr. Crane communicated to Ms. Smith that his office had not gotten an updated copy of the death records, we immediately corrected it and got his office a copy of the records. The only downside of this whole event was how Mr. Crane treated a fellow public servant. Other than the instance mentioned above, I am unaware of any difficultly that Mr. Crane has had in obtaining assistance from our office. If Mr. Crane has any other issues in getting any assistance from our office, then he should feel free to call Ms. Smith.

However, if Mr. Crane was really interested in resolving any issues with our office, I do not believe that he would litigate it in a public manner. He should instead call us directly and ask us. I suggest it is Mr. Crane who owes an apology for wagging his finger at Ms. Smith.

If Mr. Crane considers in appropriate for people to question his hard work, then why is okay for him to question the hard work of our elections division - where many of the employees pre-date Martin taking office - and clearly express disdain for them?

I hope Mr. Crane will consider being a good partner in the elections process with our office in the future.

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