LITTLE ROCK — A House committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to require 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 Joint Resolution 1016 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs. The resolution goes to the House.
The proposal, if referred to the November 2018 ballot and approved by voters, would amend the Arkansas Constitution to include among the qualifications to vote a requirement that a person show photo ID before casing a ballot in person and include photo ID when mailing an absentee ballot.
A person who did not show photo ID when voting in person would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. The provisional ballot would be counted if the voter “subsequently certifies the provisional ballot in a manner provided by law.”
The state would be required to make photo identification cards available to voters at no charge.
Lundstrum told the panel the proposal would promote the integrity of elections.
“Our whole system is built on voter security,” she said.
The Legislature approved a voter ID law in 2013, but the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that it violated the state constitution by creating a qualification for voting not contained in the constitution.
Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, noted during Wednesday’s committee meeting that when the 2013 law was implemented in the 2014 primary election, some eligible voters were unable to vote because they lacked photo ID. He said there is no data showing that voter impersonation exists, but there is data showing that such laws disenfranchise voters.
Chris Burks, a lawyer whose clients include the state Democratic Party, said fraud has occurred in Arkansas elections, but not the kind of fraud that Lundstrum’s proposal seeks to prohibit.
The committee advanced the bill a day after the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, a measure that would create a voter ID requirement through statute rather than a constitutional amendment.
Lundstrum said the Legislature should approve both measures to improve the chances that a voter ID requirement would survive legal challenges, comparing the two measures to a “belt and suspenders.”
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, a co-sponsor of HB 1047, presented that bill on the Senate floor Wednesday. After Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, requested a fiscal impact statement, a statement from legislative analysts was distributed to senators showing that the proposal is estimated to cost the state $116,000, which would be paid from the secretary of state’s budget.
The estimate does not include costs to publicize a voter ID requirement
After some discussion on the Senate floor, Rapert temporarily withdrew the bill. He explained to reporters later that some of the bill’s supporters were not in the chamber.
The Legislature can refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot every two years. A proposed amendment that would cap damages in civil lawsuits and give the Legislature control over court rules has cleared the Senate but has not been taken up by the House.