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North Little Rock's special election to raise its city sales tax will be among the first to test the state's revived law requiring voters to show photo identification to cast ballots.

Early voting starts today for sales tax elections in three cities and two counties. Those elections also will face increased scrutiny by opponents of the voter ID law, who fear the change could lead to disenfranchisement.

Under the law approved by the state Legislature in March, voters will be required to show photo ID before casting ballots or sign sworn statements confirming their identities. The change is similar to a voter ID restriction that the state Supreme Court struck down three years ago.

The new law is supposed to address the argument by some justices that the 2013 law didn't receive enough votes in the Legislature to be enacted. Lawmakers also placed on the 2018 ballot a constitutional amendment to require voter ID.

Arkansas is among 34 states that have laws that require or request that voters show some form of ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Early voting in North Little Rock's special election on increasing the city sales tax by 1 percentage point will be held from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. today-Friday and next Monday at the Pulaski County Regional Building, 501 W. Markham St. in Little Rock (across from Little Rock City Hall). In North Little Rock, voting will be 10 a.m.-5 p.m. today-Friday at the William F. Laman Public Library, 2801 Orange St. Election day is Aug. 8.

Under the new law, similar to the previous voter ID law, election officials are required to provide photo identification cards to voters for free if they don't have any other photo identification. The secretary of state's office has deployed the equipment across the state and has sent additional materials about the new law for voting locations to post, spokesman Chris Powell said.

Before now, state law required poll workers to ask for a photo ID but didn't require voters to show one to cast a ballot. The biggest change from the 2013 law is the provision allowing a voter without photo identification to cast a provisional ballot if he signs a sworn statement.

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union said the organization will monitor how the latest restriction is enforced during early voting and the Aug. 8 special elections to prepare for another potential lawsuit if it finds that voters are being disenfranchised. The ACLU successfully challenged the state's previous voter ID law.

"If voters are harmed under this law, then we're going to be evaluating whether and when we should file suit," said Holly Dickson, the ACLU of Arkansas' legal director.

For North Little Rock's election, poll workers and polling location supervisors have been provided written instructions on the new procedures, and the supervisors, or chief judges, have received additional information regarding provisional ballots, said Shawn Camp, Pulaski County's assistant director of elections.

"Voters just need to know that they need some form of valid photo identification," Camp said Monday. "There will be signs at all polling locations showing examples of what can be used."

Voters who have questions at their polling location can ask to speak to the chief judge, Camp said. Those supervisors will be equipped with cellphones to contact the county elections office to provide a voter with more information.

"We will make sure the voters are put in contact with whoever they feel they need to talk to," Camp said.

Some officials in other counties said they were glad their first test of the voter ID law will be for special elections, which typically draw lower turnout.

"It'll get everybody prepared for when you have a big one," said Election Coordinator Sherry McCuan in Woodruff County, which is taking up a sales tax measure to raise funds for a new jail.

Franklin County Election Commission Chairman John Verkamp said Monday that he did not anticipate any problems with voters having to show photo identification before voting on two proposed sales taxes that would be used to build and operate a new county jail.

Verkamp said most people were already aware of the law, but County Clerk DeAnna Schmalz was to notify voters of the requirements during a local radio program.

If approved, the 1 percent tax for North Little Rock would dedicate one-half percentage point as a permanent tax for general obligations and one-half percentage point for five years for repairs and upgrades to the police and courts building, fire stations and streets and drainage. The 1 percent tax is projected to raise $16 million annually.

The North Little Rock City Council voted in May to call the special tax election instead of implementing a monthly sanitation fee, which the council could do without a vote of the electorate. Charging for sanitation would go back on a pledge made in a March 2000 election when voters approved North Little Rock's current 1 percent city sales tax.

When the current tax was approved, the city repealed its $12 monthly sanitation fee. The city spends about $4.7 million annually to provide free pickup of trash and yard waste for 22,000 households, Mayor Joe Smith has said during public meetings about the election.

If the council were to implement a fee, it would first have to repeal Ordinance 7269, approved Feb. 8, 2000, which specified not only that the city's sanitation charge be removed, but that any reinstatement of that fee would require doing away with the tax passed in 2000.

The ordinance stated that the city's residential sanitation fee "shall be repealed upon the approval of a one percent (1%) city sales and use tax at the March 28, 2000 special election." The next section of the ordinance stated that the fee "shall be reinstated upon the abolishment of the city's one percent (1%) city sales and use tax."

The 2000 ordinance would create a procedural obligation for the current City Council if the tax in this month's special election fails and the council wants to reinstate a sanitation charge, City Attorney Jason Carter said Monday. The 2000 legislation doesn't create "a legal impediment" to that action, he said.

"If the sales tax this month fails, the city can reinstate the sanitation fee, but they will need to repeal this ordinance when they do it," Carter said. "The city would have to address this ordinance. I would encourage the City Council to repeal this ordinance, even though it doesn't expressly prohibit them from reinstating the fee."

Consumers pay a total sales tax of 8.5 percent in North Little Rock. The total comprises a 6.5 percent state tax, a 1 percent county tax and the city's 1 percent tax.

Information for this article was contributed by Dave Hughes of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press.

A Section on 08/01/2017

Print Headline: Tax measures provide first test of state's voter ID law

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