Arkansas panel bans electronic signatures on voter registration forms

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas panel has prohibited election officials from accepting voter registration forms signed with an electronic signature, a move that critics say amounts to voter suppression.

The State Board of Election Commissions on Tuesday unanimously approved the emergency rule. The order and an accompanying order say Arkansas' constitution only allows certain state agencies, and not elections officials, to accept electronic signatures, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The rule is in effect for 120 days while the panel works on a permanent rule.

Under the emergency rule, voters will have to register by signing their name with a pen.

Chris Madison, the board's director, said the change is needed to create “uniformity across the state.” Some county clerks have accepted electronic signatures and others have not.

The move comes after a nonprofit group, Get Loud Arkansas, helped register voters using electronic signatures. It said the board's decision conflicts with a recent attorney general's opinion that an electronic signature is generally valid under state law. The nonbinding legal opinion had been requested by Republican Secretary of State John Thurston.

Former Democratic state Sen. Joyce Elliott, who heads Get Loud Arkansas, told the newspaper that the group is considering legal action to challenge the rule but had not made a decision yet.

The Arkansas rule is the latest in a wave of new voting restrictions in Republican-led states in recent years that critics say disenfranchise voters, particularly in low-income and underserved areas. Lawsuits have been filed challenging similar restrictions on the use of electronic signatures in Georgia and Florida.

“What we are seeing in Arkansas is a stark reminder that voter suppression impacts all of us,” Andrea Hailey, CEO of, a national get-out-the vote group, said in a statement released Wednesday. “No voter is safe when state officials abandon the law in the name of voter suppression.”

Get Loud organizers had used a tablet to help register voters, with applicants filling out the form and signing with their finger or stylus on a touch screen. The nonprofit would then mail the application to a county clerk. The group used forms from the secretary of state’s office to assist voters with registration.