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Op-Ed: “Hyding” Elections

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Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.

by Stephen Houserman

In pursuit of writing this piece, I searched for a word that could best describe “the act of conveniently changing a set of rules to ensure an election outcome for a particular individual or group of individuals.” A proper noun that starts with a D came to mind, but in the case I’m about to make, I will have to pioneer a new term: we’ll call it “hyding” an election.

To better understand how this concept is being employed today, we have to rediscover how it has been historically used.

For a long time the definition of a majority party in Arkansas used to be whichever party held the Governor’s office. In 1966, a Republican was elected governor for the first time since Reconstruction. This was an existential threat to Democrats because the good ole’ boy system now was in jeopardy of losing control with redistricting being on the horizon at the time.

Democrat legislators could not act fast enough to ensure they could still draw their own redistricting lines. By 1967, they changed the law of establishing a majority party from whichever party held the governor’s office, to the party that held a majority of the 7 constitutional offices. This effectively protected Democrat seats for an additional 47 years.

By the time 2014 rolled around Arkansans were so disenfranchised with the party who had run the gambit for over 140 years, they protested en masse by electing a Republican majority that satisfied their new majority rule. As you can imagine, they have wasted no time looking for alternatives.

Democrats have since fielded another solution. Hint: it isn’t electing Democrats who represent the values of their constituents.As of 2018, major players in the Democrat Party of Arkansas went out of their way to change the platform to support a “nonpartisan” citizens redistricting commission, because they no longer have the political power necessary to ensure their own survival. As we have established, this is textbook Arkansas Democrat “strategery” at play.

Local Politics Turns Dirty

A particular case study of “hyding” elections has come up in Pulaski County, where County Judge Barry Hyde (I know, total coincidence) is attempting to take responsibility away from the Election Commissioners. He is frustrated with the new by-the-book Election Commissioners who serve Pulaski County because he is getting his privilege checked after years of unfettered control over local elections.

It all started back in October when a 17 year-old ordinance appeared out of nowhere and was set before the Quorum Court. It essentially established an advisory board to provide oversight of the Elections Commission in Pulaski County. Judge Hyde appointed Susan Inman, former Democrat candidate for Secretary of State to chair this board. The problem is this was never codified, which makes it unenforceable.

This has triggered a few concerns.

First, even if the board ordinance was codified, the legislation states that the board is responsible for appointing a chair, not Judge Hyde. Secondly, the board is supposed to provide public minutes, which it has not, so transparency has gone out the window.  Senator Mark Johnson has rightfully requested an opinion from the Attorney General’s office to see if this move really holds up to Arkansas law.  

After realizing the Election Commissioners would not allow a partisan elected official to run roughshod over their responsibilities, Judge Hyde attempted to steal the Election Commissioner’s ability to hire and fire its own staff and turn it over to County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth. His ultimate goal is to put this nonpartisan process in the hands of himself and the County Clerk, both partisan elected positions.

After Pulaski County residents showed up in force to a Quorum Court meeting demanding this motion be shut down, it was tabled for future review.

This is where Judge Hyde took his most egregious action yet. He submitted a letter on November 20 stating that he will take over authority and begin directly managing the elections staff.  Since he couldn’t get what he wanted through democratic means, he now is resorting to brute force and intimidation.

His justification? He points to an “abusive” work environment at the Election Commission’s office, although no one has come forward to affirm this wild accusation. For the sake of transparency, I will be filing a FOIA request for all documented complaints or reprimands regarding the Election Commissioners and staff to which Judge Hyde was privy, so we can get this in front of the public. 

My bet: he is confusing mistreatment with actual management that has previously been lacking at the county level for decades.

Judge Hyde has opened a can of worms that is now gaining much deserved attention. State Representative Doug House made it known at the Quorum Court meeting that the Judge Hyde’s actions could cost the county federal dollars that are sorely needed to help fund elections. That goes without saying this issue is also on the radar of the Arkansas legislature which will likely consider a remedy next session.    

Ultimately, Arkansans expect their elections to be transparent, secure, and disciplined. Making up rules as we go invites opportunity for fraud, bad practices, and incompetent operation. Fortunately, we now have people who care enough to not let that happen uncontested.

This is the beginning of the end for “hyding” elections.    

Stephen Houserman is the communications director for the Republican Party of Arkansas. He can be reached at shouserman@arkansasgop.org.

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