Larry Crane, Vote Suppressor

crane-01Perhaps you have read about the conflict between Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane and attorney general candidate Leslie Rutledge. As you’re probably aware, Crane is a Democrat and Rutledge is a Republican. I think Larry Crane has exhibited a large mistake in judgment; because of my opinion on that, I wanted to take measures to let him explain his side of things. I have done so, at length, immediately below; following that, I’ve also explained what I believe to be the rest of the story.
Crane’s Perspective
One week ago, the Pulaski County Clerk’s office received a hand-delivered letter from the “Arkansas Libertarian Coalition,” suggesting that attorney general candidate Leslie Rutledge was registered to vote in two different jurisdictions outside Arkansas. (Thanks to excellent reporting by Jason Tolbert, we know that the “Arkansas Libertarian Coalition” is almost certainly a front group for Democratic Party activists.) According to Crane, because of Rutledge’s registrations outside Arkansas, “without coming here and doing an application for registration here, she could not vote here, and under Amendment 51 [of the state Constitution], I had a mandatory duty to cancel her registration … it’s a mandatory duty, and I’m just supposed to do it.”
In 2013, Rutledge filled out a change-of-address form in Pulaski County; according to Crane, this action generates a voter registration card automatically, which Rutledge received. Crane told me that Rutledge “was not entitled to be registered to vote” at that point, because she was still registered outside the state. Crane told me that “had she simply filled out a new voter registration application, there would be no problem … She’s still registered in Virginia, and you can’t be registered in two places.” Once she’s registered in Virginia, it’s Crane’s position that she can’t be registered in Arkansas – even if she received a voter registration card from his office – until she formally registers for a second time here.
The conventional practice is that if Jane moves from state Alpha to state Beta – and, more particularly, changes her voting registration from Alpha to Beta – the registrar of voting records in Alpha is supposed to get a notice from his or her counterpart in Beta that says (to paraphrase) “We’re in charge of Jane’s votes now. Take her off your voter roll.” I asked Crane why that didn’t happen here. He explained to me that when Rutledge changed her voting state in 2008, she should have been taken off the Arkansas rolls. “Technically, if state B does their job, and if that little piece of paper on the bottom is sent back … Had DC sent Mark Martin or his predecessor, Bill McCuen, that slip, then they would have entered it into their records and her registration would have been cancelled and not just been made inactive.”
There is a significant factual dispute about exactly what happened in 2013, when Rutledge filled out that change-of-address form. According to Crane, “had she come back to Arkansas and said ‘I have been a registered voter in Virginia. I’m home,’ we would have handed her an application for registration, and she would have filled it out, and everything would have been lovely.” Crane made the point that a change-of-address form states expressly that it can’t be used to transfer registration from one state to another.
I had one more question for Crane – when somebody gets a voter registration card, as Leslie Rutledge did, doesn’t that mean that the recipient is entitled to vote? Crane told me: “They can take that and they will not be turned away at the polls. The problem is that, had we had all the correct information, she should not have been issued that voter registration card without re-registering here. But we didn’t have all the information to work on. She didn’t give us the information we needed to make that determination.” What happens when the clerk receives a change-of-address form is that “It’s automatic! If you move and you let us know and we have a registration on file for you, we will automatically send you one of those voter ID cards.”
The Rest of the Story
Here is the problem for Crane. According to Rutledge, it’s just not true that (as Crane suggests) she had the alternative of filling out a new registration form. Crane says that she could have filled out a new registration form just as easily as she filled out a change-of-address form. According to Rutledge, however, when she filled out that form in 2013, she repeatedly told the clerk’s staff that she wished to transfer her registration back to Arkansas, but because she was already on the Arkansas voter rolls, the staff member refused to accept her second Arkansas registration. According to Rutledge, “after I explained several times that I was moving from Virginia back to Little Rock and that I did not live at the address on file, the staff member insisted that I complete the change of address form. I complied based on repeated assurances from the member of your staff that this would register me to vote in Arkansas as a resident of the address listed. I was assured by your office that this was the proper procedure and the proper form to ensure that I would be legally registered to vote.”
Viewed from this perspective, one can reasonably be sympathetic to Rutledge. Who hasn’t dealt with some bureaucracy where you have to follow what appear to be irrational procedures in order to achieve your rights under the law?
So maybe we’re at an impasse. Maybe this is just an issue in which where you stand depends on where you sit. Maybe Democrats are just going to say “Crane’s right. Rutledge should have followed the rules and insist on filing the right form,” and Republicans are just going to say “Rutledge is right. She did everything she could to follow the rules, and she shouldn’t be blamed for having to deal with a close-minded bureaucrat.”
But I think that is too simple. I think Crane had a good deal more discretion than he pretends to have had, and that he made the wrong decision. That is because his whole argument depends on the theory that the system works, and if Rutledge had just followed the rules, “everything would have been lovely.” But the facts of reality pose a problem for Crane’s narrative.
Here is the question that puzzles me: if the system works so well, why is it that Rutledge’s Arkansas registration was never cancelled? What happened to the notification that Virginia was supposed to send to Arkansas? (And, similarly, what happened to the notification that Virginia was supposed to have received?) Somewhere along the line, some government worker dropped the ball with Leslie Rutledge’s name on it somewhere when Leslie Rutledge’s data was not correctly recorded. And if that’s just an understandable these-things-happen-every-now-and-then glitch in the system, why isn’t the glitch that Rutledge accused the clerk’s office of – that they simply wouldn’t accept her attempt at a second registration – equally plausible?
In fact, the embarrassing history of elections in Pulaski County demonstrates that maladministration in the county clerk’s office would hardly be surprising. Ten years ago, the federal government was overseeing elections in Pulaski County. Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley was doing his best to get then-County Clerk Carolyn Staley removed from office; a grand jury had recommended her removal on grounds of incompetence. Under Staley, the clerk’s office was one of the most unresponsive and dysfunctional bureaucracies that Arkansans ever encountered. Surely Crane knows all this; he was one of the army of candidates who ran for office to replace her.
So I think that Crane – who was well aware that something had already gone dreadfully wrong with Rutledge’s registration, through no fault of her own – had plenty of discretion to assume that Rutledge had substantially complied with the registration process. Crane could have concluded that, given the obvious procedural failures that Rutledge had already fallen victim to, she had already suffered enough. Indeed, he conceded that someone who is issued a voter registration card has the right to vote at the polls. I think he could have said “You know, I’m already on record as contributing to the campaign of Rutledge’s opponent. She’s already been the victim of a significant bureaucratic foulup – a foulup in which my office might be the party at fault. I’m really going to look like a partisan hack if I argue that I’m compelled to yank her registration.”
But Crane decided that looking like a partisan hack, and drawing the conclusion that he was obliged to take an action that he didn’t really have to take, was a better option. Which is depressing. Of course Crane didn’t have to take immediate action. There is no dispute that Amendment 51 provides that a county clerk has 10 days to take action upon receiving notice that a registered voter is residing outside the county; furthermore, because Rutledge’s registrations outside the state had become inactive, I think Crane could have concluded that Rutledge resided inside Pulaski County as of last year, and therefore that Amendment 51 allowed him the discretion to view Rutledge as a Little Rock resident. (Amendment 51 allows clerks to cancel the voter registration of those who aren’t residents. I appreciate that registration in another district is evidence of residency – but lapsed or inactive registration outside Arkansas is weak evidence of residency outside Arkansas, especially when weighed against stronger evidence of residency, such as recent and repeated voting in Arkansas.) But admitting that he had options would have been the reasonable and non-partisan thing to do, and I don’t know that Crane has any interest in meeting that standard. (KATV quoted Crane the other day as saying “Once I step in these doors, then I become totally neutral and everyone that walks into this office gets treated with respect and dignity.” Forgive my skepticism about Crane’s political neutrality; his official bio trumpets his long history of employment by Mike Beebe, Mark Pryor, and Bill Clinton.)
Let us reflect for a moment on the world in which Crane wants us to live: it’s a world in which opaque bureaucracies make decisions and “automatically” issue pieces of paper whose significance is difficult or impossible for normal people to understand. It’s a world in which bureaucrats inform you that they have no choice but to make the discretionary decisions they arrive at. It’s a world in which your receipt and possession of a voter registration card doesn’t actually mean that you’re registered to vote; your registration can be revoked at any time, even if you live in the county which Crane allegedly serves and even if you have a recent history of voting there. In fact, in the world of Larry Crane, your possession of a voter registration card is very similar to the situation he has placed Leslie Rutledge in – because, for Larry Crane, it looks like both of these things are little more than a big joke.

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10 thoughts on “Larry Crane, Vote Suppressor

  • October 3, 2014 at 6:23 pm
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    Thank you for your reporting. Insightful.

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  • October 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm
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    i moved to Ar 2000 went to the court house Told where I was from filled out a card and was registered simple but Larry is probably a simple mined left wing hack Maybe he can be retired this year.

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  • October 4, 2014 at 6:52 am
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    Very good article ,I still have a question why did they not have Leslie register again. When according to the clerk office said her registration was inactive. Question was Leslie notified that her registration is going to be removed for not voting . The diligences of the clerk office to assure that the person voting is legal to vote not the potential voter.

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  • October 6, 2014 at 2:39 pm
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    And so did Leslie drop the ball when she had registered to vote in July 2008 in DC and then used an AR absentee ballot in Nov 2008 to vote? Why did she not let AR know of the mistake? This is just more proof of her incompetence. And the rumor has it that she was asked to resign from the Governors office due to her drunken escapades anyone have more info on this since we cannot access the files Huckabee Crashed or took when he left with that info?

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    • October 10, 2014 at 8:23 pm
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      The registrars of voting records in bot AR and VA didn’t do their jobs by reporting to each other. Oh, and do you have evidence to support your rumors? Until you do, it means nothing.

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  • October 6, 2014 at 4:19 pm
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    Voter Registration/County Records Supervisor in March of 2013
    Address change forms were created by my predecessor and are not state issued. They are fillable pdfs available online, however, they were not available at the counter for the public. The only form available at the counter was a voter app. The policy in 2013 and prior to as it was written down in a manual for staff was to always provide an address change form in place of a voter application due to the limited amount of apps available. Why limited?
    1. We received large requests by the public and organizations for voter apps on a weekly basis.
    2. We had 10 elections in 2012 alone. They flew off the shelf.
    3. We could shred address change forms. We had a storage problem and voter was a large contributor. We could verify and shred. (until the Clerk decided we could shred voter apps)
    The problem: A voter comes to the counter and he or she is looked up in a separate room by staff. The staff sees the voter is registered and provides the non-state issued form. This was standard policy since prior to my arrival in July of 2010.
    What could be done: That is tough to say. Here is what we did for all those other folks that were registered in two states during early voting (past the 30 day deadline) during the presidential.
    They were canceled. I contacted the SOS or clerk in their state and had them canceled there as the acting Pula Registrar and reinstated them by backdating their registration (even for the law student who voted in the Primary in MO).
    For the DMV debacle. They did not complete a voter app (i.e. the questions for new voters) at the DMV in 2012. They were mistakenly done as address changes in the system. The Clerk allowed them to vote provisionally (I counted their vote), and fill out a new app when they cast their ballot. We then backdated their registration date to the day they did a mistaken address change (not new registration) at the DMV.
    So where does that leave Leslie and Larry? I don’t know. I can only speak to what occurred at the Clerk’s office in 2013 as policy would implicate. I do know this presents an opportunity for Pulaski to rid themselves of the address change forms as they now shred voter apps and have no need for them anyway, and for the state to invest in the Nationwide crosscheck system. Best of luck to Leslie. Time to stop the negativity and just stick to facts and remember that Amendment 51 at 11(b) is clear regarding duty of removal and discretion is allotted to the Registrar as it was in the case of the DMV debacle of 2012.

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  • October 10, 2014 at 5:58 am
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    Kristi’s entire argument is null and void due to this crazy contraption invented decades ago called a photocopier. If you were running low on applications, make some copies and then you wouldn’t have to give someone the wrong form.

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    • October 10, 2014 at 8:25 pm
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      That would make too much sense for the Democrat Crane to do.

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    • October 27, 2014 at 1:11 pm
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      Actually no because the policy was in regards to shredding. You couldn’t shred a voter app, but you could shred an address change form. That was policy. It was a storage issue. The other was simply an excuse.

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  • October 13, 2014 at 8:24 pm
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    If you call following the law voter suppression, does that mean you are against following said law? Or is a skewed perspective something to be cultivated?

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