Voter registration groups are filing a lawsuit against Arkansas due to the state’s sudden refusal to accept electronic signatures on forms.

Get Loud Arkansas, led by former state Sen. Joyce Elliott, lodged a civil rights lawsuit against state and local elections authorities for rejecting electronically signed voter registration forms. The lawsuit, filed alongside and two individual plaintiffs, targets both state election commissioners and specific county clerks.

Arkansas is one of just a handful of states that doesn’t allow online voter registration, which likely contributes to its dismally low rates of registered voters and election turnout. Arkansans can fill out an electronic form at a state revenue office — our equivalent of the DMV — but otherwise have to do it the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.

In January, Get Loud began providing an alternative: Voters could fill out the official Arkansas voter registration form on the Get Loud website and sign it electronically, just as people do these days on everything from retail purchases to mortgage documents. Get Loud would then print off the signed form and deliver it to the appropriate election official — typically a local county clerk’s office.

As per the complaint, Get Loud Arkansas sought clarification from Secretary of State John Thurston’s office multiple times in early February regarding the acceptability of electronically signed forms. They were assured that digital signatures wouldn’t be treated differently than traditional pen signatures. A staffer in Thurston’s office affirmed on Feb. 14 that they saw no distinction between a digital signature and a wet signature.

Two days later, Thurston himself sent a letter to county clerks urging them to reject voter registration forms that had been signed electronically. (In Arkansas, county clerks are locally elected officials that operate separately from state government, but they often look to the secretary of state for guidance on voter registration questions.)

“The Secretary’s brief, two-paragraph letter provided no explanation or legal basis for his sudden shift in position,” the lawsuit says. “Moreover, the Secretary issued this letter without any warning to GLA [Get Loud Arkansas], despite the aforementioned correspondence with the Secretary’s office about this precise issue.”


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