Arkansas Legislature Approves Voter ID Requirement

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013 4:55 pm  

The Arkansas Capitol Building in Little Rock. (Photo by Stephanie Dunn)

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to legislation that would require voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot, sending the Republican-backed measure to Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's desk.

The Senate voted 22-12 to approve the bill after rejecting a nonbinding committee recommendation that the measure require a two-thirds majority, 24 votes. The Republican-led chamber had approved an earlier version of the bill, but had to sign off an amendment attached by the GOP-controlled House to exempt active duty military personnel who file absentee ballots.

The bill also exempts voters who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Under the bill, other voters who don't show photo identification would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. That ballot would be counted only if they provide ID to county election officials or sign an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed by noon Monday following the election.

Beebe has questioned the need for such a law since poll workers are already required to ask for ID, but stopped short of saying whether he'll veto the bill. While Arkansas poll workers must ask for identification under current law, voters don't have to show it to cast a ballot. If they refuse, they receive provisional ballots election workers must later verify. The bill will put the burden of proving identity on voters, not election workers.

It requires Arkansas to provide free photo IDs to voters who don't have one, costing the state an estimated $300,000. The requirement won't be enforced until funding is available for the IDs or January 1, 2014, whichever occurs last.

Sen. Bryan King said he believed the Senate Rules, Resolutions and Memorials Committee's 8-6 vote to require a two-thirds majority on the bill was a political ploy aimed at stalling the bill. The panel made the recommendation based on arguments that the legislation amends constitutional requirements on voter registration.

King, R-Green Forest, said he hoped Beebe would sign the measure into law.

"Every vote should count and it should matter and we should have safeguards against fraud," he told reporters after the vote.

Opponents compared the restriction to poll taxes that were used to disenfranchise black voters during the Jim Crow era.

Sen. Joyce Elliott said hearing her grandparents talk about poll taxes motivated her to get involved in politics. Elliott, who is black, said she feared voter ID would similarly suppress black voters.

"They worked hard. They sacrificed to not have those types of impediments," Elliott, D-Little Rock, told lawmakers before the vote.



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