Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Record on Voting Rights
On Sunday, April 2, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced his run for the Republican nomination for president. Hutchinson, who served as governor of Arkansas from 2015 to January 2023, said that a formal announcement would follow later in April. In the meantime, he urged former President Donald Trump to drop out of the race following the former president’s indictment in New York.
“The temptation is to become the loudest voice in the room to draw more attention,” Hutchinson told The Washington Post at an earlier time. “That’s not my style, and I don’t think that’s what the electorate expects.” Though he touts his quiet focus, under Hutchinson’s watch, Arkansas has enacted some of the worst voting restrictions and redistricting maps in the country. The state may get less national attention than anti-voting efforts in nearby Florida and Texas, however, Hutchinson has proved that he is no ally to democracy.
Even though Arkansas has the worst voter turnout in the country, Hutchinson allowed new voting restrictions to become law in 2021.
When it comes to voter turnout, Arkansas ranks at the very bottom of the list. In the 2020 election, the state had the lowest voter registration and voter turnout rates in the whole country, as well as the highest mail-in ballot rejection rates. The voting rates for Black Arkansans are even lower than the overall state average.
Despite the immense work that could be done to improve voting access in Arkansas, the Republican-controlled Legislature prioritized passing new restrictions in 2021. Then-Gov. Hutchinson actively supported or stood by idly while these four laws were enacted.
In fact, in March 2022, an Arkansas trial judge struck down the laws after they were challenged in court by the League of Women Voters of Arkansas and Arkansas United. The judge ruled that all four laws violated the right to vote as enshrined in the Arkansas Constitution and admonished lawmakers for enacting laws “based entirely on conjecture, speculation, surmise, misinformation, and fear-mongering about allegations of voter fraud and election insecurity.” The trial court’s ruling was subsequently paused, keeping the laws in place while litigation continues.
Act 736 requires election officials to match the voter’s signature from their mail-in ballot application with the signature on their voter registration application. If an official determines that the signatures don’t match — an often error prone and arbitrary process — the application is rejected. The law also prohibits election officials from proactively sending mail-in ballot applications to voters.
Act 973 gives Arkansas another unfavorable distinction: the earliest ballot receipt deadline in the country. The law requires mail-in ballots that are returned in person to be submitted to the county clerk’s office by the Friday before Election Day. Previously, voters had until the following Monday to submit their ballots in person. (Mail-in ballots sent via the U.S. Postal Service are counted if they are received by 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.)
Act 973 became law without Hutchinson’s signature. He said the new deadline “unnecessarily limits the opportunities for voters to cast their ballot prior to the election,” yet declined to use his veto power to stop the law from going into effect.
A 2017 law required voters to present photo ID before voting, but allowed those who lacked acceptable ID to sign a sworn statement that the voter is who they say they are, under penalty of perjury, known as the affidavit fail-safe. The affidavit fail-safe option permitted voters to have their vote counted without further action. However, Act 249, signed by Hutchinson, removes the affidavit fail-safe option. Instead, voters who lack proper identification, whether casting a ballot in person or by mail, must bring a form of identification to the county clerk’s office within six days of the election.
Act 728 establishes a line warming ban, similar to, but even more vague than the high-profile laws in Georgia and Florida. The line warming ban in Arkansas prevents anyone except voters from coming within 100 feet of a polling place. This blanket provision doesn’t name any exceptions, so it is currently construed to ban volunteers from distributing food and water to voters in long lines, family and friends from accompanying elderly or disabled voters and children from joining their parents. (Electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place in Arkansas is already prohibited.) Anyone found to violate this law is subject to a misdemeanor.
During his tenure, Hutchinson also supported a ban on outside funding for election administration, bills empowering investigations into election crime accusations and a rule to make it harder for canvassers to get citizen-led initiatives on the ballot.
During the 2020 redistricting cycle, Arkansas’ new congressional map split Little Rock across several districts.
Following the release of 2020 census data, Arkansas politicians redrew a congressional map that split Pulaski County, home to the capital city of Little Rock, among three different districts. Under the last decade’s map, the state’s most competitive district contained Pulaski County, which is the state’s most populous county and one of only a handful Democratic-leaning counties in the state.
“The removal of minority areas in Pulaski County into two different congressional districts does raise concerns,” Hutchinson said in an October 2021 news conference while once again declining to sign or veto the Legislature’s actions. Two lawsuits subsequently argue that the congressional map intentionally “cracks” Black voters across multiple districts to dilute their collective voting power in violation of the Arkansas Constitution, U.S. Constitution and/or Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
More directly, Hutchinson was one of three government officials sitting on a board that drafted the new state House and Senate maps. While the panel crafted a new majority-Hispanic House district in Northwest Arkansas, that map was challenged by the Arkansas State Conference NAACP for not drawing additional majority-Black districts and thus violating the VRA. Litigation is ongoing.
Hutchinson is a Trump critic who eschews the most anti-democratic currents in the Republican Party.
Hutchinson has long criticized Trump, doubling down after the 2020 election and Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Hutchinson spoke out against the Republican National Committee’s censure of former U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), defending their involvement in a House committee to investigate the Capitol attack. However, he disagreed with the committee’s final decision to refer Trump for criminal prosecution: “The record is clear that former Pres. Trump is responsible for what happened on January 6, but accountability is most likely to come from the American people who are ready for our country to move beyond the events of January 6,” he tweeted.
After Trump’s indictment on March 30, 2023 over a hush-money payment in New York City, Hutchinson called on Trump to drop out of the presidential race.
While Hutchinson rebukes the Trump obedience that has become prevalent in the Republican Party, he is a staunch conservative in almost every substantive issue area. Voting rights are no different: Even when he recognized that voting restrictions or unfair maps were harmful, he took the idle path of allowing bills to become law without his signature. In doing so, Hutchinson made it even harder to vote in a state with already abysmal voting access.