Jury’s still out in test of voter ID law
In a quiet corner of the Pulaski County Courthouse, a desktop computer and a camera meant to provide voter IDs sat unused last week.
A special election for a tax increase in North Little Rock has been one of the first tests of the state’s new voter identification law. The law requires voters to either show a photo ID or sign a document to confirm their identities. Election day is Tuesday. Early voting ends today.
At the close of business Friday, 1,086 people had cast early votes in the election at one of two locations, including the Pulaski County Regional Building in Little Rock across the street from the courthouse. During early voting from last Tuesday through midafternoon Friday, eight were unable to show a photo identification, but their provisional ballots will be counted because they signed forms affirming
their identities, said Bryan Poe, director of elections for the Pulaski County Election Commission.
“Especially in a smaller election like this, most people show ID as a matter of course,” he said. “All these years, we’ve been asking people for their ID regardless and now — and I guess back in 2014 — were the only times it’s been required. As far as I can tell — for decades — people have asked for ID before they go to vote so they’re used to providing their ID and moving on.”
He added that in an election with greater turnout and participation by less frequent voters, he would expect more people without photo identification.
Across the street at the courthouse, Jason Kennedy, assistant chief deputy for Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, said no one has asked to be given a free identification — a service required under Act 633 of 2017, by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, with equipment paid for by the state.
“We only did a few last time in the short period of time the law was in place,” Kennedy said. “It’s just a question of getting the information
out to the people so they know to do it. If anyone doesn’t have one, we’d be happy to help them out.”
If approved, the 1 percent tax for North Little Rock would dedicate onehalf percentage point as a permanent tax for general obligations and one-half percentage point for five years for repairs and upgrades to the police and courts building, fire stations and streets and drainage. The 1 percent tax is projected to raise $16 million annually.
Elsewhere in the state, local sales tax-related elections are ongoing in Woodruff, Franklin, Sharp and Monroe counties. No one has had to cast a provisional ballot in those counties due to lack of identification, officials from each county said Friday afternoon.
Lowery, who sponsored the voter identification law, said he was pleased by the results so far.
“I know I’ve read recently that representatives from the [American Civil Liberties Union] were going to be watching these special elections just to see if people are being disenfranchised by the law,” he said. “So far, from those numbers, it looks like that is not the case and I’m glad that the sworn statement provision is there and being utilized.”
Still, Holly Dickson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said she has concerns about voters being excluded and is watching the ongoing elections closely.
“It’s not as if there’s been a full-scale effort to educate all the poll workers about the proper procedure,” she said. “The provisional ballots are only going to be able to tell us so much. If someone’s turned away, that’s not going to be in
The ACLU of Arkansas, along with other organizations, sued in 2014 over the previous voter-identification law, passed in 2013. The lawsuit went to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which struck down the law.
While Act 633 resurrects many of the provisions of the previous law, what’s new is the ability to sign a sworn statement and cast a provisional ballot. The act also pertains to voter registration — instead of voting itself — in an attempt to comply with the court’s ruling.
According to the constitution, Arkansas voters need only be age 18 or older, U.S. citizens, Arkansas residents and properly registered to vote.
However, the state constitution’s Amendment 51 concerning voter registration authorizes lawmakers to amend requirements if twothirds of both houses of the General Assembly approve. Act 633 cleared that threshold; the vote was 74-21 in the 100-member House and 25-8 in the 35-member Senate.
Some lawmakers, concerned about a court challenge to this year’s law, drafted a proposed constitutional amendment to require photo IDs at the polls. The proposed amendment will be referred to voters for a decision in November 2018.
As with Act 633, the previous law required the secretary of state to provide equipment to make identification cards to the counties. During debate over the 2017 voter identification bill, Lowery said he did not expect the state to incur additional cost since the equipment had already been bought to comply with the earlier law.
Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, challenged consideration of the measure because an independent fiscal-impact statement detailing how much the legislation would cost had not been filed. However, the House overruled his request and then passed the bill.
Invoices provided by Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office show equipment, software, training and maintenance purchases have totaled $63,800 so far this year.
“We were told it was not going to cost anything and then we asked for a fiscal impact statement,” Blake said. “They voted to suspend the rules. It’s frustrating that we can be misled because people don’t want to be transparent.”
In response, Lowery said: “I wasn’t surprised that there had to be some type of expenditure. The secretary of state’s office had said they had originally bought the voter ID equipment, sent it out and took it back in. Some of the equipment was returned either broken or pieces missing.”
In response to the 2013 voter identification law, the secretary of state’s office estimated it would need to buy about $300,000 worth of equipment.
Under Act 633, identification that would be accepted includes: driver’s licenses, photo identification cards, concealed-handgun carry licenses, passports, employee badges or identification documents, student identification cards issued by accredited Arkansas colleges and universities, U.S. military identification documents, public-assistance identification cards and free voter-verification cards.