LITTLE ROCK An Arkansas Senate committee Thursday endorsed legislation to require Arkansans to provide photo identification to vote, after a senator questioned the motivation of the bill’s sponsor.
Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, cleared the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee in a voice vote after a two-hour public hearing in which the measure’s supporters and opponents agreed on little about the bill. The five Republicans on the committee voted for the bill, while the three Democrats voted against it.
Under current state law, poll workers ask for identifying documents, but voters are not required to show them.
King said that requiring people to present photo identification to vote in Arkansas would improve the integrity of elections and reduce voter fraud.
“We need to clean up our elections,” he said.
People already are required to provide photo identification as part of their everyday life for matters such as getting a library card or getting onto a plane, King said.
“Many people say this is partisan,” King said. He noted that the House of Representatives approved similar legislation two years ago when Democrats controlled the Legislature; the bill stalled in a Senate committee.
Former state Rep. Dan Greenberg, R-Little Rock, told the Senate committee that “very few people really believe that requiring a photo ID is a kind of imposition on people’s constitutional rights.
“The notion that there are these large groups of people without [an] ID is by and large a myth,” he said. Voter turnout actually increased in Georgia and Indiana after those states passed similar voter-ID laws, he added.
Jefferson County Election Commission Chairman Stu Soffer, who serves on the state Board of Election Commissioners, told lawmakers about a few cases of voters misrepresenting themselves.
But Pulaski County poll worker Barry Haas said the bill’s requirement for a photo identification would prevent as many as 250,000 Arkansans, including the elderly, military veterans and students, from voting.
He said the bill would cost millions of dollars to implement and prevent no voter impersonation.
Holly Dickson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Arkansas chapter, said the bill interferes with people’s right to vote - a right that is explicitly protected under the state constitution.
Voter-ID laws in several states have been struck down by the courts, she said.
Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, said at least one Republican legislative leader in Pennsylvania acknowledged that laws requiring voters to present photo identification are aimed more at suppressing votes than curbing voter fraud.
“Sen. King, will you admit at least part of the motivation for this bill is suppressing votes?” Johnson asked.
In response, King said, “That’s absolutely not true.”
Greenberg added, “ That’s really unfair, senator, and I think you are better than that. My general view is vote fraud is a problem and it’s legitimate for the Legislature to address it.”
Then Johnson pressed King and Greenberg further.
“Will you admit that this will have the effect of suppressing votes?” Johnson asked.
In response, Greenberg said, “I think it has the effect of suppressing vote fraud. Maybe it will have the effect of suppressing illegitimate votes.”
King said that laws requiring voters to provide photo identification have led to increased voter turnout elsewhere.
“What part of increased turnout don’t you understand?” King asked Johnson, but Johnson didn’t reply.
Afterward Johnson, a lawyer, said he isn’t apologizing for his questions.
“I was calling a spade a spade and I saw the truth and I spoke the truth. That’s the way I feel about it.”
The bill would require anyone voting in person to present photo identification; and if voting by absentee ballot, to present a copy of photo identification or a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.
A resident of a long-term or residential care facility licensed by the state would not have to provide proof of identify to vote but would have to get a facility administrator to provide documentation that the person is a resident of the facility.
The bill would define proof of identity as a valid document or identification card, issued by the United States, the state or an Arkansas college or university; or one that has expired within four years of the election.
A voter who could not provide identification would be allowed to vote by provisional ballot. The ballot would only be counted if the voter returned to the county board of election commissioners or county clerk by noon on the Monday after the election and presented photo identification or an affidavit stating that the voter has no identification because he is poor or has a religious objection to being photographed. The ballot would be counted only if it was not challenged.
The bill would require the secretary of state to create rules requiring county clerks to issue voter identification cards at no cost to individuals who don’t have another valid form of identification and have filled out a voter registration application.
If enacted, the bill wouldn’t become effective until at least Jan. 1, 2014; it would only be implemented if the state had money to issue the voter-ID cards.
King estimated it would cost the state roughly $300,000 to purchase equipment to produce voter identification cards for county clerk’s offices in the state’s 75 counties. The cost of implementing the bill would be “extremely minimal” to the counties, he said.
State Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, said he doesn’t question King’s motives, but he’s worried that the cost of implementing the legislation could be higher than King estimated.
He noted that Greenberg sought $2.25 million in state funds through 2007 legislation to provide identification cards for all Arkansans over the age of 18 for voting.
But Greenberg speculated Thursday that that only about 1,000 Arkansans would need to get the voter cards; the rest would use alternate forms of identification.
State Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, said he’s read a few books that give examples of elections being lost across the nation because of voter fraud.
“I want to know when I vote in an election, that the person that gets the majority of the votes wins that election,” he said.