LITTLE ROCK — A Senate committee voted Tuesday to advance a bill to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.
In a voice vote with no audible dissent, the all-Republican Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle. The bill, which passed in the House last month in a 74-21 vote, goes next to the full Senate.
Lowery told the committee the bill has been amended since it passed the House. Previously, the bill stated that a voter who did not show photo ID could cast a provisional ballot. The provisional ballot would be counted if the voter showed photo ID to the county clerk or county election board by noon on the Monday after the election.
Under the amended bill, a voter casting a provisional ballot would be given the option of signing a sworn statement, under penalty of perjury, that the voter is who he or she claims to be.
The county clerk would compare the signature to the signature on the voter registration card issued to that person, and if they matched, the provisional ballot would be counted without the voter having to go to the clerk or the election board.
The amended bill also would allow a person submitting an absentee ballot to sign a statement that could be used to verify the person’s identity if no photo ID is submitted.
Lowery said the amendment was suggested by the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas. He said the ACLU did not agree to drop its opposition to the bill but told him the changes “could make it better.”
The bill 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 the committee his bill is carefully worded to make it clear that it is about confirming voter registration, not adding qualifications to vote. He also said some Supreme Court justices noted that the 2013 law was not passed with the two-thirds majority needed to amend a state constitutional amendment on voter registration, and told the panel he expects to achieve that threshold with his bill.
Lowery said opponents of voter ID requirements often say it is “a solution in search of a problem.”
“There is a problem, and the problem is that there is an eroding confidence in the electoral process,” he said.
Barry Haas, who identified himself as a Little Rock poll worker, spoke against the bill, saying it is intended to put an obstacle in the path of voters — particularly those who are least likely to have photo ID, which he said includes black voters. He compared the bill to poll taxes that restricted black voters during the era of Jim Crow laws.
“Arkansas is better than this,” Haas said.
Lowery told reporters later, “It doesn’t disenfranchise voters. I think it’s an insult to say that that is the intent behind the bill. It’s one thing to say that this might be the impact, but to say that it’s the intent is an absolute attack on me personally.”
Nearly all House Republicans voted for the bill and nearly all House Democrats voted against it last month. Twenty-six of the Senate’s 35 seats are held by Republicans.
Proposed constitutional amendments to require voters to show photo ID at the polls also have been filed in the House and Senate.