A bill that will remove sworn statements as a way of casting a provisional ballot in Arkansas has been passed by the Arkansas Senate. House Bill 1112, which was sponsored by senators Alan Clark, Missy Irvin, Mark Johnson and Jason Rapert, as well as 50 state representatives, passed in a 25-9 vote on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
This bill amends the Arkansas Constitution’s Amendment 51 and the Arkansas Code concerning provisional ballot procedures. This bill removes sworn statements as a method of casting a provisional ballot when the voter does not present the required documentation or identification card.
Under the current law, a voter can complete a sworn statement, which is not required to be notarized, at the time of voting. This sworn statement would be delivered to the county board of election commissioners so that the provisional ballot can be counted.
Arkansas law currently holds that poll workers can inform voters that they can complete a sworn statement holding that they are registered to vote in the state and that they are who they say they are.
According to Sen. Mark Johnson (R), the bill is a security matter, aimed at securing election integrity. He said that the bill is focused on providing an “absolute standard of verification” for voting.
“The simple thing is that if someone misrepresents who someone is either that they are eligible or that they are that person, then they are in effect stealing the vote from that person. There’s been a lot of talk about it for years but it comes down to the simple thing [that] some people like to scream voter suppression. The fact of the matter is the only thing this will suppress is someone who is trying to vote illegally,” he said.
Sen. Trent Garner spoke in favor of the bill, stating that it closed a loophole in the voting process that caused “confusion and anarchy” in elections. He chided the opposing lawmakers, stating that election laws have been “routinely” changed.
Both Garner and Johnson emphasized the commonality of identification in daily life, noting multiple instances in which an ID is required. Responding to claims that individuals may not have access to picture identification, Garner voiced his disbelief.
“This idea that people can’t get a photo ID. I’m sorry, I’m just going to completely reject it. This body, in its wisdom, created a process where the people of Arkansas can get a free ID to go vote if needed,” Garner said.
However, Sen. Clarke Tucker struck the opposite note when speaking from the well against the bill. “There are some people who don’t have voter ID. I know that may be hard to accept, but the reality is, yes, all 35 members of this chamber have a driver’s license, we all have cards, we all have credit cards, we all have bank accounts. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people in the state of Arkansas who don’t have those things. Just because they don’t have those things doesn’t mean they’re not entitled to cast their vote as an American citizen,” he said.
Despite his opposition to bill, Tucker said that fundamentally agreed that fraudulent votes should be eliminated. However, he said that depriving the votes from lawful voters is also a security issue.
“I try to be very conscientious about when I come down. I try to focus on issues where our values are aligned but maybe we have a difference of opinion about how to go about it. I think that’s the case with this bill. I think our values are aligned. Those values being that zero fraudulent votes should ever be counted in the State of Arkansas or anywhere else in the United States. That’s one piece of it. Another piece of it is that 100 percent of ballots of ballots that are lawfully cast by citizens of the State of the Arkansas. Now if a fraudulent vote is counted that threatens the integrity of the election system and we are in full agreement on that. Now, in my judgement also, if you have a lawfully registered voter of the United States who attempts to vote and their vote is not counted, that also threatens the integrity of the election system,” he said.
He emphasized that the bill is not a matter of voter identification but of removing the sworn statement. Removing this sworn statement, according to Tucker, would affect groups such as the elderly and the disabled who have a lack of resources to obtain picture IDs or make return trips to the polls. “If we pass this law, we will be disenfranchising their ability to vote,” he said.
Sen. Alan Clark also referred to the sworn statement as a loophole that could result in voter fraud. He framed the bill as an issue between security and suppression. “I want everybody’s vote to count but I’d rather three votes didn’t count than we have a big loophole where we have a case where dozens or hundreds could be counted that shouldn’t be.”
He did not cite a case in Arkansas or elsewhere where this had occurred. However, he promised, “I can assure that if somebody can’t get a voter ID or some kind of picture ID, if they’ll call one of use, I bet we can get it done.”
Sen. Keith Ingram (D) took aim at the bill, squarely accusing it of being a matter of voter suppression. “To paraphrase the former governor of the state of Arkansas and the distinguished United States senator, ‘When they continue to say, it ain’t about voter suppression, it’s about voter suppression,’” he said, referencing former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers’ comments during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
“This bill is one that is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist. That’s the basic truth. We know from this last election that it was perpetuated that fraud too place. But you can’t prove it. Nobody will come forward,” he said.
Issues that arise in the voting process, Ingram said, can often be attributed to database issues. These issues can result in voters’ names being in the wrong precinct or other mistakes. In Ingram’s view, removing the sworn statement would be a punishment for voters when they have often not made a mistake.
“That person that is trying to vote can’t vote and you’re telling them because of this, they’re going to have to come back and provide an ID to vote for something that wasn’t their fault to start with simply because their name was not in the database. We should be encouraging, making it easier for people to vote, not making it more difficult under the guise that there is a tremendous fraud that’s being perpetuated by our elections. That’s what discouraged people in this country from voting,” Ingram said.
Ingram’s last comment appeared to be in response to a remark from Sen. Jason Rapert. During his turn in the well, Rapert questioned the senators about the worth of security in elections. He went on to say that voter IDs were not the cause of low turnout numbers. “The reason in this state that people are turning out in low numbers is not because they have have a photo ID. If that were the case, you would have better numbers right now, wouldn’t you?,” he said.
Following the comment period, 25 senators voted in favor of the bill, while nine voted against the bill. With 24 votes required to pass, the bill will proceed to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk.