Senate committee passes amended Voter ID bill

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 227 views 

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday advanced a bill requiring voters to present a photo identification at the polls. House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, passed on a voice vote with no committee members dissenting.

The bill now goes to the full Senate but will have to return to the House because of an amendment added by Lowery. The amendment would allow voters who don’t have a photo ID to sign a sworn statement under penalty of perjury so the signature can be verified by the county board of election commissioners. Absentee voters would be required to sign a sworn statement as well.

The original bill required voters without a photo I.D. to cast a provisional ballot and then return to the county board of election commissioners by noon following the election with a qualifying photo I.D. or document. Lowery amended the bill based on discussions with Rita Sklar and Holly Dickson with the Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and then after hearing the same suggestion by a conservative election commissioner.

After the vote, Sklar said, “We’re never OK with a voter I.D. requirement, but I think that with the affidavit provision, and the fact that you can swear in a statement saying you are who you are and that you would be guilty of a felony if you lied, and the fact that you don’t have to come back to prove you are who you are, which the old bill required, makes it a lot better.”

The Legislature in 2013 passed Act 595, which also required voters to present a photo identification at the polls, but it was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court. About 1,200 ballots were not counted in 2014 because of the law.

The late Justice Donald Corbin wrote in his majority opinion that the measure added a qualification to voters that is not included in the Constitution. Justices Courtney Goodson, Karen Baker and Jo Hart, all of whom are still on the seven-member court, offered a concurring opinion based on the fact that the act was not passed with a two-thirds majority. They said that amount was required because the law changed a constitutional amendment, Amendment 51, which governs the registration of voters. They did not rule on the qualification issue.

Lowery has said he is attempting to pass the bill with at least a two-thirds majority.

Lowery told committee members that while there is no known widespread voter fraud, it’s also not a priority for prosecutors, and most elections are decided by such wide margins that there is little motivation to investigate abuse. He said the bill would address Americans’ eroding lack of confidence in the electoral process.

He told the committee that the bill repeatedly referred to the photo ID as a requirement for voter registration, not a voter qualification. He said the bill could be challenged in court, but he thought it would be judged constitutional.

Speaking against the bill was Barry Haas, a longtime Little Rock poll worker, who said the photo I.D. requirement placed a burden on voters and could lead to widespread disenfranchisement among certain groups.

Still to come Tuesday is a discussion by the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Constitutional Issues Subcommittee, which is expected to narrow the number of proposed constitutional amendments coming from the House. The full committee will then choose from that list. The Legislature can refer a maximum of three amendments.

One of those amendments to be considered, House Joint Resolution 1016 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, would place a voter ID requirement in the Constitution. Lundstrum said she is amending the resolution so it also includes a provision allowing sworn statements. Lowery said the two have been working in concert to ensure the bill and the proposed amendment have parallel requirements.