LITTLE ROCK — A House committee on Wednesday advanced a bill to require Arkansas voters to show photo identification at the polls.
In a voice vote that was not unanimous, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle. The bill goes next to the full House.
The bill would require a person to show photo ID to cast a regular ballot but would allow a person who does not show photo ID to cast a provisional ballot. The provisional ballot would be counted if by noon on the following Monday the person shows to the county election board or county clerk a photo ID or an affidavit stating that the person is indigent or has a religious objection to being photographed.
The measure also would require the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office to provide for the issuance of voter identification cards with photos to registered voters who request them from their county clerk. The cards would be issued free of charge.
The measure effectively would reinstate a voter ID law that the Republican-controlled Legislature approved in 2013, overriding a veto by then Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat. The Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 2014, in a challenge filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, that the law violated the Arkansas Constitution by adding qualifications for voting that went beyond those established in the constitution.
Lowery told reporters Wednesday, “We have a superior written document, I believe, to what we had in 2013 in terms of the wording making sure that it’s understood that we are just verifying (voter registration) as opposed to adding a qualification.”
Lowery also said he believes the different makeup of the Supreme Court and the different attorney general — Republican Leslie Rutledge succeeded Democrat Dustin McDaniel — make his proposal more likely to stand up to a challenge than the previous voter ID law.
HB 1047 would amend the state constitution’s Amendment 51, which concerns voter registration. The Legislature can amend a voter-initiated constitutional amendment with a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
When the Supreme Court struck down the 2013 law, three justices — Courtney Goodson, Karen Baker and Josephine Hart — said the law did not pass with large enough majorities in the Legislature to change the constitution’s language on voter registration. Those justices are still on the court, but the other four who were on the court in 2014 have been replaced — one of them by former Republican state Rep. Shawn Womack.
Lowery said Wednesday he is confident his measure will receive enough votes to satisfy the concern raised by Goodson, Baker and Hart.
Holly Dickson, legal director for the ACLU of Arkansas, told reporters Wednesday that Lowery’s bill is likely to disenfranchise eligible voters and said it has the same constitutional problems as the 2013 law.
“We can call it a voter registration requirement all we want, but it applies to people when they go to vote, so it’s a qualification for voting,” she said.
Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who sponsored the 2013 law, said Wednesday he plans to file a proposed constitutional amendment that the Legislature could refer to voters to require photo ID at the polls. He said he does not see his approach and Lowery’s as competing but as “a couple of avenues to getting it done.”
President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will order an investigation into what he believes was massive voter fraud in the November presidential election, although no evidence of fraud has been produced. King said when asked if he believes there was fraud in the presidential election, “There’s no question there’s fraud in every election.”
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he supports a voter ID law but has not endorsed specific legislation on the issue.