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Board warns poll watcher over chatting

The state Board of Election Commissioners last month warned a Pine Bluff poll watcher that she violated the law when she talked to two voters during Pine Bluff's special sales tax election in June, according to documents released by the board Thursday.

The letter expressed "strong disapproval" for Dorothy Hayes' actions as a poll watcher, but it noted that no evidence suggested Hayes' conversations with voters addressed election-related issues.

Poll watchers are allowed to remain inside polling sites on behalf of their candidate or ballot issue to ensure that voting is carried out lawfully, but they're prohibited under Arkansas Code Annotated 7-5-312 from speaking to voters.

"This is designed to prevent the appearance that those individuals with partisan viewpoints are abusing their privilege of remaining in the poll and gaining an unfair advantage over other candidates or issues who are not represented," the board's letter states. "Consequently, the SBEC must express the conclusion that seeing a poll watcher conversing with voters in the poll undermines the public's confidence in the integrity of the election process."

Hayes couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

The commissioners also dismissed a portion of the same complaint that alleged A Better Way Forward, the political action committee affiliated with Hayes, was not authorized to have poll watchers because it had not registered as a local-option ballot question committee.

A Better Way Forward was cautioned and fined in September by the Arkansas Ethics Commission for failing to register as a ballot question committee.

The election board in November, however, determined that A Better Way Forward was a "group" under Arkansas' poll watching law, despite filing documents in the "wrong location."

A Better Way Forward formed to oppose the five-eighths percent sales tax that Pine Bluff voters approved on June 13. The tax, which funds the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative, is expected to generate $32 million a year in addition to another $20 million in pledged donations to strengthen education, economic development, infrastructure and quality of life in the area.

Metro on 01/14/2018

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