LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday recommended rules for implementing Arkansas’ new law requiring voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls.
A day earlier, the secretary of state’s office entered into a contract with a Little Rock company to purchase 98 machines which will be distributed to county clerk offices across the state and used to provided photo IDs to people who can’t afford them.
The contract with AAMSCO Identification Products Inc. was for $114,974.74, said Alex Reed, spokesman for Secretary of State Mark Martin. Each of the 75 county clerk offices in the state will be provided a machine with a few remaining for emergencies, he said.
The new rules, which will be considered by the Legislative Council’s Rules and Regulations Subcommittee in October, mirror Act 595 passed by the Legislature earlier this year requiring every voter to show an official identification bearing a photograph before they can cast their ballot.
Under the new law, the photograph can be on 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 which would not be counted until the person produced a photo ID.
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed the Republican-led initiative but the GOP-majorities in both chambers of the Legislature overrode the veto.
The board’s unanimous vote Wednesday to approve the guidelines occurred after some of the language was changed slightly or eliminated altogether.
One of the changes requires all provisional ballots to be reviewed by a three-member panel of the county’s election commission. The original proposal would have given some discretion to the election official at the polling place.
Language which originally required the secretary of state’s office to include instructions regarding the absentee voter requirement on absentee ballot applications was changed to ask the secretary of state’s office to include the language.
Stuart Soffer, a Republican Jefferson County Election Commissioner, said later that the state constitution prohibits the board from telling the secretary of state’s office to do anything.
Officials with Martin’s office who attended the meeting indicated the information would be included in the absentee ballot application.
"Essentially, the secretary of state will prepare an addendum to be attached to absentee ballot applications (and) that will ensure that all 75 county clerks will attach the same thing," Soffer said. "Because different county clerks will do things different ways."
Soffer told reporters he supports the new voter ID requirement. He noted that poll workers had been required to ask for identification, but voters did not have to show it in order to cast a ballot.
"That was so frustrating to our 3,000 … poll workers in Arkansas, it’s unbelievable. We either needed to have nothing or something. We now have a definitive, well thought out voter identification act that does not exclude anyone," he said.
"I think it’s absolutely necessary and I think it’s a good thing," he said.
Critics of the voter ID law said it address a non-existent problem and could disenfranchise some voters. Soffer said he has yet to see any evidence that the new law will keep some from voting.
The contract signed by the Secretary of State’s office on Tuesday is for less than half of the $300,000 that the law’s sponsor, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, estimated it would cost.
Act 595 was to become law on Jan. 1 or when the secretary of state’s office found the money in its budget to purchase the photo identification machines.