Jury’s still out in test of voter ID law

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BRIAN FAN­NEY

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 record.”

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.

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