by Caleb Talley
Earlier this week, I asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to make a ruling on the state’s voter ID law so that this week’s Cash & Candor on Issue 2 would be even more timely. And on Thursday, they came through for me.
Okay, so that’s not exactly how it happened. But on Thursday, Arkansas’ highest court did rule in a 5-2 decision to uphold a state law passed in 2017 that would require voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot.
A similar measure was struck down in 2014. But unlike the previous version, the law upheld by the Court this week allows voters to cast provisional ballots without an ID as long as they sign a sworn statement confirming their identities. The signature on the statement would be compared to the voter’s signature on his or her registration.
That means, come Election Day, Arkansas voters will be required to show their ID to vote for or against Issue 2, a ballot measure that if passed would write the voter ID law into the state’s constitution.
Let’s give it a look.
The first voter ID provision passed by state lawmakers in 2013 was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court because it created a fifth qualification for voting not found in the state’s constitution. Presently, there are four – be a citizen of the United States, a resident of Arkansas, at least 18 years old and lawfully registered.
In 2017, lawmakers passed another voter ID law, House Bill 1047. The law was designed to require election officials to ask to see a valid photo ID. But in April, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray ruled that HB 1047 was unconstitutional and granted a preliminary injunction against it.
It’s safe to say that Arkansas lawmakers saw that coming. That’s why, during the 2017 legislative session, they also referred a voter ID amendment to the 2018 ballot. If the court rules a law unconstitutional, change the constitution. After all, that’s the purpose of legislatively-referred ballot measures, right?
The General Assembly referred Issue 2 to the ballot mostly along party lines. In the House, 70 of 76 Republicans and three of 24 Democrats supported the amendment. In the Senate, 23 of 26 Republicans and one of nine Democrats supported the amendment.
If passed, Issue 2 would explicitly establish photo identification as a constitutionally required qualification for voting, which would prevent challenges to laws passed by the state legislature to establish photo ID requirements for voting.
Requiring voters to show identification to cast a ballot, according to supporters of such a policy, would cut back on the likelihood of election fraud. President Donald Trump, earlier this year, tweeted about how crucial it was for states to embrace voter ID laws to secure their elections.
The only problem with that, though, is election fraud is incredibly rare. According to a nationwide study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice, incidents of voter fraud were found at rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent.
And in Arkansas, since 2000, there have been just three instances of election fraud, according to research conducted by the conservative Heritage Foundation. Two of those instances involved the fraudulent use of absentee ballots – a state representative was responsible for one. The third was duplicate voting, which took place in 2016.
But despite how infrequent election fraud appears to be, it does happen. And strict voter ID laws would at least make it less likely.
Critics of the policy have also pointed to the fact that obtaining a state issued ID card or driver’s license costs money. Requiring a voter to have an ID that costs money, they say, amounts to a poll tax, which was outlawed in the 1960s.
Lawmakers thought of that, too. Issue 2, if passed, would give the state the power to determine what types of photographic identification could be counted as valid. It would also require the state to provide valid ID to voters free of charge through their local county clerk’s office.
And voters without an ID can still cast a provisional ballot.
The group of voters Issue 2 is most likely to impact negatively is the elderly, who are more likely to vote absentee and be unwilling to mail their ID to a stranger.
According to a poll released last month, likely Arkansas voters expressed overwhelming support for Issue 2, at 71 percent. The opposition accounted for 21 percent.
No ballot question committee registered in support or opposition to Issue 2, and no money was raised for or against it. The majority of the state’s lawmakers have spoken in favor of the measure.
Our Revolution, a nonprofit organization, founded by 2016 by Sen. Bernie Sanders has spoken out against Issue 2. But I doubt there are many Arkansans who take stock in that.
In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]. Read more Cash & Candor here.