Tuesday, March 25, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Hanky-panky at the polls

One of the disgraces of Arkansas history is that our institutions, from the courts to the legislative branch, have always countenanced election fraud. Hanky-panky at the polls is the subject of jokes — vote early and often! — and it is considered just one of the unavoidable sideshows of democracy.

But the Committee on State Agencies and Public Affairs of the state Senate assembled this week to do something about at least the allegations of election fraud.

It is the first time in modern times, if ever, that an Arkansas legislative body has set out to settle whether one of its members was elected fraudulently.

The dispute over the election of a senator from east Arkansas, Jack Crumbly, has bounced around the courts for more than a year and the courts finally punted to the legislature.

The legislature is the arbiter of who is properly elected to its membership. The state Constitution has said so since 1874, but this is still new — “uncharted territory,” as the committee chairman, Sen. Steve Faris described it.

So the Senate, surprisingly but to its credit, accepted the role.

The committee began three days of hearings yesterday to weigh the evidence that a supporter of Crumbly, the county election chairman, stole the election from Rep. Arnell Willis, who was running for the Senate seat. It will recommend to the full Senate, which will convene Monday, whether Crumbly should be removed and replaced by Willis. Crumbly maintains that Willis’ accusations are baseless and that his 74-vote margin was legitimate.

The hearings are open and the public will get a chance to see whether the sacred right to vote can still be corrupted and how easily. More than that, we will learn whether the crime of election fraud can actually be rectified.