Gov. Mike Beebe (D) issued his third veto of the 89th General Assembly rejecting a divisive voter ID bill that would require photo proof at the polls to cast a ballot.
Beebe said SB 2, the voter ID bill, is “an expensive solution in search of a problem.” A cost analysis of the bill indicated it would cost about $300,000 to implement. Beebe said in his veto letter of SB 2 that the estimate did not “take into account the ongoing costs that the taxpayers will continue to bear in future years.”
“At a time when some argue for the reduction of unnecessary bureaucracy and for reduced government spending, I find it ironic to be presented with a bill that increases government bureaucracy and increases government expenditures, all to address a need that has not been demonstrated,” Beebe said. “I cannot approve such an unnecessary measure that would negatively impact one of our most precious rights as citizens.”
A request for comment from the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, is pending.
The bill has passed both chambers of the legislature largely along party lines. Republicans favor the voter ID bill, while Democrats have opposed it. In the Senate, the bill passed 22-12. The bill was approved in the House by a 51-44 margin, with five members not voting.
The legislature has overridden gubernatorial vetoes of two abortion-related bills earlier in the session.
One legal challenge to the voter ID bill has centered on how the bill impacts Amendment 51 of the state constitution. Democrats argued that SB 2 affects Amendment 51, which outlines qualifications for voter registration. Several rules challenges in the House and Senate slowed the bill’s progress through the two chambers.
Beebe cited research conducted by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D), who delivered an inconclusive opinion on the measure on Monday.
“Most courts faced with the question have held that rather than imposing an additional qualification, voter ID laws merely provide a permissible procedural condition on the right to vote. Those courts, however, are often influenced by specific language in those state constitutions that require the legislature to enact laws that regulate elections, police the elections process for fraud, or otherwise ‘protect the purity of the ballot box,’” McDaniel said. “Because our constitution lacks any such language, an Arkansas court might be persuaded to side with those few courts that consider voter ID to be an impermissible additional qualification. Because this is a case of first impression in Arkansas, I cannot predict with certainty how an Arkansas court would rule on this question.”
Beebe said he still had constitutional concerns regarding the bill. Republicans control the Arkansas House and Senate and can override a gubernatorial veto with a simple majority vote.
Doyle Webb, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, says that GOP majorities in the legislature would push for an override of Beebe’s veto.
“By vetoing voter ID legislation, Governor Beebe has once again overruled the wishes of Arkansas voters, disregarded the will of bipartisan majorities who passed the bill in the legislature, and even ignored the opinion his own Attorney General released just this afternoon. In order to ensure the fairness and integrity of Arkansas elections, we look forward to overriding this veto in the days to come,” Webb said.
Will Bond, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, praised Beebe for the move.
“Thank you Governor Beebe for vetoing SB2 and for protecting the basic, fundamental right to vote for all Arkansans,” Bond said in a statement. “SB 2 was only going to do three things: increase government bureaucracy, increase government spending, and suppress voter turnout. Thank you for standing up for all Arkansans fundamental right to vote and for protecting Arkansas taxpayers.”
Link here for a PDF copy of Beebe's veto letter.