LITTLE ROCK — A House panel sought Wednesday to reinstate Arkansas’ voter ID law, and expanded Republican majorities in the Legislature could help it survive yet another court challenge like the one that struck down a nearly identical plan more than two years ago.
The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed the proposal requiring most voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. The measure is expected to go before the full House next week
The panel endorsed the measure hours after President Donald Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims that millions of ballots were cast illegally in last year’s election, said he would order an investigation into voter fraud. Election officials across the country have dismissed Trump’s voter fraud claims as baseless.
The Arkansas Supreme Court in 2014 unanimously struck down the state’s voter ID law, ruling it amounted to a new requirement for voters in violation of the state’s constitution. The latest proposal is aimed at addressing a concern three of the court’s seven justices raised that the prohibition didn’t pass with enough votes in the Legislature when it was enacted in 2013. The voter ID measure will require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate.
“If the voters do not have confidence in the electoral process, then it also has a very strong causal link to lack of confidence in all of the other elements of democracy,” Republican Rep. Mark Lowery, the voter ID bill’s sponsor, told the panel.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had successfully challenged the 2013 law, said the reworked proposal would still infringe on Arkansas voters’ rights.
“It’s the same law as before. We can call it a voter registration requirement all we want, but it applies to people when they go to vote so it’s a qualification for voting,” Holly Dickson, legal director for the ACLU of Arkansas, told reporters after the vote. “The Legislature should take a step back and examine what went wrong, what they need to be doing and not jeopardizing the rights of more Arkansans’ ballots.”
Lowery’s proposal is counting in part on a new makeup on the state Supreme Court. Four of the justices who struck down the 2013 law are no longer on the court, and one of the new justices is a former Republican state legislator. The three justices who said the 2013 law didn’t get the two-thirds vote needed remain on the court.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be playing games based on the political composition of a court when neutrality at the judicial level is supposed to be assumed,” Democratic state Rep. Warwick Sabin, who voted against the measure, said.
Arkansas law currently requires election workers to ask for photo ID but voters didn’t have to show it to cast a ballot. The new measure would allow voters without photo ID to cast a provision ballot that would be counted if they return by noon the following Monday to show ID or an affidavit stating they are indigent or have a religious objection to being photographed.
Like the previous law, the measure requires the state to provide photo IDs to voters who don’t have another valid form of identification. The state still has equipment for providing the IDs that was purchased before the 2013 law was voided.
The measure is not the only attempt to revive the voter ID restriction. Republican Sen. Bryan King, who sponsored the 2013 law, said he will introduce legislation placing a proposed constitutional amendment on voter ID on the 2018 ballot.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he generally supports voter ID measures, but has stopped short of saying whether he support the legislation or the ballot measure.
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