LITTLE ROCK — Comments offered Wednesday at public hearing on implementation of the state’s new voter ID law showed the law remains sharply divisive.
Act 595 of this year requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. The secretary of state’s office held a public hearing in downtown Little Rock on Wednesday to gather public comments on proposed new rules for implementing the law, which passed in the Legislature in a strictly partisan vote and was vetoed by Gov. Mike Beebe, though Republican lawmakers overrode the veto.
"This act actually creates barriers for voters," said Stephanie Johnson, president of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas. "That’s an overall concern for us, is that new legislation is starting to come into effect that dissuades individuals from participating in one of our most basic rights here in the United States as a citizen, and that is the right to cast your vote."
J.A. Bankhead of the Arkansas NAACP called the act "an additional burden on voters" and a law "looking for a problem."
Susan Inman, a Democratic member of the Pulaski County Election Commission and the state Board of Election Commissioners who has announced her intention to run for secretary of state next year, asked, "How are we going to educate the public about this change? It’s totally missing from any of the rules prepared."
Offering a defense of the law and the proposed rules was Stuart Soffer, a Republican member of the Jefferson County Election Commission.
"The law’s been passed," he said. "The task is now to find acceptable ways to make it work. I’ve been hearing this disenfranchised voter stuff ever since this began, and no one has yet to come and tell me how a voter is going to be disenfranchised by having to show identification. I’m getting so tired of that bunk."
Stoffer added, "Arkansas is now a two-party state. You all need to get used to it and quit trying to take us back to the Dark Ages."
The GOP held majorities in both the state House and Senate this year for the first time since Reconstruction.
Julia Atherton of Washington County Democrats responded that "our homeless population, that’s one of the largest populations that does not have any of the requisite ID. And just to note, sir, a huge portion of our homeless population would be veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The secretary of state’s office will accept written comments on the new rules until 4:30 p.m. on July 1.
Under Act 595, a voter could only cast a ballot if he or she shows official identification bearing a photograph — a driver’s license, state identification card, concealed-carry handgun license, military ID, a U.S. passport, employee badge or identification document, public assistance identification card or college student identification card. A voter without photo ID could cast a provisional ballot.
People without such forms of ID would be able to get a photo ID card for free at their county clerk’s office. The law will not take effect until funding becomes available to purchase the equipment to make the cards.
The proposed rules can be found on the secretary of state’s website.