LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas House on Tuesday approved a bill to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.
In a 74-21 vote, the House approved House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, and sent it to the Senate.
The vote was nearly party line, with Reps. Deborah Ferguson of West Memphis and Bob Johnson of Jacksonville the only Democrats voting for it and Rep. Kim Hendren of Gravette the only Republican voting against it.
The Republican-controlled Legislature approved a voter ID law in 2013, overriding a veto by then-Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that it violated the state constitution. Lowery’s bill seeks to reinstate the photo ID requirement.
The bill also would require the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office to provide equipment to county clerks that the clerks could use to issue photo ID cards to voters who request them, at no charge.
Lowery told House members that critics of voter ID laws often say they are a solution in search of a problem, but he said he disagrees. He said polls have shown that many do not have faith in the integrity of American elections, and said he believes that is related to low voter turnout.
“I want to do what we can to restore the honesty and the integrity of the ballot, which many believe is not there, and hopefully the reciprocal effect will be increased turnout,” he said.
Lowery also said he believes evidence of widespread voter fraud at the polls is lacking because there is no central database that is collecting data on the issue and because prosecutors often decline to prosecute when alleged voter fraud is reported.
Rep. Charles Blake, D-North Little Rock, requested a fiscal impact statement on the bill, but the House approved a motion by Lowery to waive House rules regarding fiscal impact statements. Blake asked Lowery what the cost to implement the bill would be.
Lowery said the Secretary of State’s Office has already bought the equipment needed to produce photo ID cards, in order to comply with the 2013 law, so no new purchases will be necessary. He said the office will train county clerks to use the equipment.
Lowery said he believed his bill would stand up to a constitutional challenge, noting that some of the justices who struck down the 2013 law said they would have done so because it did not pass in the Legislature with a two-thirds vote in each chamber, the threshold needed to amend a voter-approved constitutional amendment.
Lowery’s bill did reach that threshold Tuesday in the 100-member House.
Speaking against the bill, Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said it has constitutional issues. He noted that four of the justices who struck down the 2013 law said it added new qualifications to vote that went beyond those established in the state constitution, and he said Lowery’s bill would do the same.
The four justices Tucker referenced are no longer on the court. The three justices who said the 2013 law did not pass with enough votes in the Legislature remain on the court. Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, noted while speaking in support of the bill that the court’s makeup has changed.
“We’ve got a new court and we’ve got a new opportunity to establish what the law is on this,” Ballinger said.