The issuance of an apparently fraudulent voter registration card is causing state officials to investigate its origin and the possibility of fraud.

The issuance of an apparently fraudulent voter registration card is causing state officials to investigate its origin and the possibility of fraud.


Pine Bluff resident Douglas F. Smith says that he received a voter registration card bearing the name Shawn Bridges at his address, where Smith has lived since 1977. Smith said he brought the card to the attention of Jefferson County clerk’s office employee, asked if the office could investigate the apparent error and remove the name from the rolls, but was told there was little that could be done.


Asked for an opinion on the situation by The Commercial, the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office spokesman expressed alarm about the possibility for voter fraud in the situation and said they would turn the issue over to legal authorities to investigate.


Smith said he fears the error could lead to fraud.


"There needs to be a better way of identifying people," Smith said by phone. "I am not supportive of Arkansas voter ID laws requiring a photo ID [which the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned]. I think there could be laws passed that will require the county clerks to improve the system. I think there should be a requirement to produce an ID to register to vote. There needs to be a better way to coordinate between the different agencies."


Smith sent a letter documenting his concerns to Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s office and Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office. He shared his letter with The Commercial.


"I am concerned that it is apparently so easy to incorrectly register to vote, but do not agree that the onus should be placed on the voter to prove he/she is the person listed when he/she arrives at the polling place," Smith said in the letter. "The relevant state departments having to do with voter registration, real estate, taxes, should be able to devise, through cooperative efforts, a method, using existing information more efficiently to better determine the validity of an applicant’s qualification for voting. No method will ever be 100 percent fool-proof, but what we are now doing apparently is lacking in effectiveness.


"[The county clerk’s office employee] repeated that there was nothing she could do to keep him from casting a ballot in the upcoming election. His voter registration is undeniably fraudulent, but the lady was adamant that nothing could be done," Smith said.


Smith said he has lived at the same address in Pine Bluff since 1977 and does not know how such an error could have occurred.


"I am angry that it is easy to get around the law," Smith said. "At some point, I hope the law will be fixed to prevent fraudulent registration."


Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Johnson said she does not have any way to correct errors of this nature.


"This is the first time I have heard of this problem," Johnson said. "The process is we register people. We need the last four digits of a social security number or a driver’s license number."


A person completes a voter registration application in the county clerk’s office and then receives a voter identification card by mail, she said.


"We do not check addresses," Johnson said. "We have no way of knowing where people live. We cannot visit 50,000 houses. That is not our job."


Asked if a person could vote twice in the same election, Johnson said: "I do not know if that is possible. We have not had it happen here. If we find an error, we will flag it.


"We ask for voter ID but the voter does not have to produce a voter ID," Johnson said, "as long as they give date of birth, address and name."


Jefferson County senior deputy clerk Katherine Wooldridge said that a person who finds an error should contact the prosecuting attorney.


The office of Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin released this statement through Director of Strategic Initiatives Mark Myers.


"I’m very concerned about the potential voter fraud occurring in this situation," Martin said. "As a result, I have instructed my staff to turn this over to the proper legal authorities for further investigation."


Myers said that county clerks are responsible for voter registration in accordance with the Arkansas Constitution Amendment 51. Furthermore, clerks should notify the county board of elections with questions about legality, he said.


"Patricia Johnson is responsible for verifying the voter registration," Myers said. "This is the first case of this nature that I have heard about in this election cycle. Clerks usually resolve these issues.


"The county clerk determines if you are registered," Myers said. "When we receive an application, we send it to the counties."


There are mechanisms in place to prevent a person from voting twice in the same election, Myers said.


"If the person registers with the same name and birth date, the [computer] system will recognize that it is the same person," Myers said. "The clerk should cancel or forward your old registration. The voter registration system should catch that you are already registered to vote."


The law prohibits people from being registered in more than one location and from voting more than once, Myers said.


"People can be registered to vote in another state and in Arkansas, but that is illegal," Myers said. "If they vote in more than one place it is criminally against the law. In Arkansas the clerks are the keepers [of the rolls.]


Smith specified that he does not have any complaints against Jefferson County Clerk’s Office employees. He said he wants to prevent any potential for fraud.


Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s office referred questions to the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners.


Arkansas Board of Election Commissions director Justin Clay said he does not have jurisdiction over the matter. People can file a formal complaint but those matters are confidential, Clay said.