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Filing would put Arkansas voter-ID amendment before public

by Brian Fanney | February 3, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Republicans, concerned that enacting a law will not be enough to require voters to provide photo identifications before casting ballots, are working to refer a constitutional amendment to the voters that would impose the requirements.

Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, filed Senate Joint Resolution 6 late Wednesday. It followed the House passage Tuesday of a voter-identification bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle.

"I don't think there's any question that voter fraud's been going on -- despite what the Democrats have denied," King said. "They've stopped, actually, investigations into voter fraud. The system that the Democrats set up in Arkansas was for years, was a rigged system."

H.L. Moody, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said election commissions are now generally controlled by Republicans.

"If there was some massive fraud going on, don't you think the Republicans would have set their hair on fire by now? I don't understand this need to make voter ID the answer to voter fraud that no one seems to be able to find actual evidence for," he said.

Voter-identification bills hurt the elderly and minority groups more than other groups, Moody said.

The voter-identification measures -- which King and Lowery said are not competing -- attempt to address a unanimous Arkansas Supreme Court decision in 2014 that found that a previous voter-identification law violated the state constitution.

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Four of the seven justices on the court at that time said the law added a qualification to the list of qualifications set out in the state's constitution.

According to Article 3, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, in order to vote, a person needs only to be age 18 or older, a U.S. citizen, an Arkansas resident and properly registered to vote.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Courtney Goodson said it was not necessary to scrutinize the law as it relates to Article 3 of the constitution. The Legislature's power to regulate elections, Goodson noted, stems from Amendment 51, Section 19, of the constitution. Modifying that section requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate, a vote margin that the earlier bill did not receive.

On Tuesday, Lowery's bill received 74 votes in the House. It has yet to be voted on in the Senate. A two-thirds margin in the House is 67 votes.

"I think his deals more with the Amendment 51 issue," King said. "Mine deals with Article 3, which deals with voter qualifications."

Under Lowery's bill -- House Bill 1047 -- identification that would be accepted includes: driver's licenses, photo identification cards, concealed-carry handgun licenses, passports, employee badges or identification documents, student-identification cards issued by accredited Arkansas colleges and universities, U.S. military identification documents, public-assistance identification cards and free voter-verification cards.

King's constitutional amendment -- SJR6 -- would require the General Assembly to decide upon acceptable identifications.

King's and Lowery's measures provide for free identifications for those who do not have them. Neither specifies what sort of documents a voter would need to provide to get a free identification.

King said one example of voter fraud was when former Rep. Hudson Hallum, a Democrat, bribed absentee voters with cash, chicken dinners and cheap vodka.

He decried then-Gov. Mike Beebe's 2013 veto of a bill to start a voter-integrity unit in the secretary of state's office.

"Beebe and the Democratic machine did everything to stop people from looking into voter fraud," King said. "Naturally, you're not going to find voter fraud if you don't go look for it."

At the time, Beebe said a collection of bills by King were "unwarranted attempts to undo a carefully crafted system of checks and balances and divisions of responsibility between the state Board of Election Commissioners, the secretary of state's office and local election commissioners."

Moody said King's proposal doesn't address the absentee votes that were a problem in Hallum's case.

"And by the way, he got caught and punished because our system doesn't allow voter fraud like that," he said.

A Section on 02/03/2017

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