Thursday, August 4, 2016

Secretary of State Mark Martin's craven dereliction of duty

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 5:16 PM

click to enlarge MARTIN'S SILENCE: No comment despite disastrous scandal created by his office.
  • MARTIN'S SILENCE: No comment despite disastrous scandal created by his office.
If you haven't already, make sure to read Benji Hardy's report on the scandal at the Arkansas Secretary of State's office, which provided flawed data to counties falsely flagging individuals to be removed from the voting rolls. 

Many of those flagged as ineligible felons had in fact gone through the process to get their voting rights restored, and many had never been convicted of a felony in the first place. As Benji notes in his report, "if the experience of the clerks in two of the state’s largest counties are any guide, as many as two-thirds of the individuals flagged in the ACIC data may actually be eligible to vote" (we'll have a post up shortly with more reporting on the experience in individual counties).

This is an absolute scandal: the systematic removal of eligible voters from the rolls. The blame falls to Secretary of State Mark Martin's office, which requested data likely to be faulty and then passed it on to counties without sufficient context or explanation. A month later, counties were informed by Martin's office that they should "proceed with caution" and “there is potential for some errors to occur” but were given only vague guidance on the scope of the fiasco or the means to correct errors.

County clerks are now left trying to clean up the mess that Martin's office created. With responses varying widely county to county, it appears to be a near certainty that some citizens in Arkansas will be denied their constitutional right to vote. Read that sentence again. Ask yourself why we even bother to have a secretary of state (paid $90,000 a year by Arkansas taxpayers). This is a moment that demands leadership from Martin, but unfortunately he shows nothing but shameful disregard for the most important duties of his office. He has not commented on this story.

His office's spokesperson, Chris Powell, engages merely in flimsy buck-passing. Powell confesses that the secretary of state's office was aware that the data might be bad but passed it along anyway without doing due diligence to ensure that clerks corrected the errors. Powell's position is that's the clerks' job, not the secretary of state's job — that Martin's constitutional responsibility ends after he provided the data to the clerks. It is hard to imagine a more craven failure of leadership.

To review: The secretary of state's office passed along bad data, knew it was bad data, and showed lazy disregard for attempting to correct errors arising from that bad data. After creating this mess, it immediately abdicated all responsibility and placed all of the burden for handling the problem on individual county clerks. The office has declined to provide any leadership, coordination or guidance — even as potentially hundreds of the citizens it serves remain wrongly stripped of their right to vote. It has punted on its most sacred responsibility. What is there to even say? Perhaps their lawyers have Mark Martin's rear end well covered, but let's be clear: The secretary of state's office is morally bankrupt. 

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