The state Board of Election Commissioners on Wednesday approved rules necessary to implement a new voter-identification law, clearing the way for ballots to be cast under the legislation as soon as September.
Instead of asking for photo identification -- but not requiring it -- the proposed rules and Act 633 of 2017, by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, make the process more straightforward, said Keith Rutledge, director of the Board of Election Commissioners.
"We've had some complaints on that over the past year," he said. "This pretty much will clear that up. You either show me your ID or you sign this affidavit -- basically."
The law and the proposed rules tell voters to show photo identification before casting ballots, but allow people without photo identification to sign a sworn statement saying they are registered voters in Arkansas.
As long as the affidavit is present, the provisional ballot "shall be counted when the county board makes its initial determination so long as there is no additional reason, unrelated to the verification of the voter's registration, that would also cause the ballot to be treated as provisional."
Daniel Shults, legal counsel for the board, said the rules essentially create a new sort of provisional ballot that's automatically counted unless there's a red flag.
The proposed rules also state that when poll workers encounter voters without photo identification, they "shall notify the voter that they must cast a provisional ballot in the election." The workers also must inform voters that they may complete an identity-verification affidavit "which will allow the voter to affirm he or she is registered to vote in the State of Arkansas and that he or she is the person who is registered to vote."
Shults said that so long as he gets the go-ahead from Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office, emergency rules will be considered for review and approval by lawmakers before the September school elections.
Permanent versions of those rules -- which require public comment in addition to legislative review and approval -- will work their way through the system at the same time. The board decided to set a date for public comment at a future meeting.
Act 633 resurrects many of the requirements of a voter-identification law that was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2014.
Some lawmakers, concerned about a court challenge to this year's law, drafted a proposed constitutional amendment to require photo IDs at the polls. The proposed amendment will be referred to voters for a decision in November 2018.
Proponents of voter-identification laws see the requirements as a way to prevent voter impersonation and fraud. Opponents say there is little fraud and that such laws unduly restrict the right to vote and also impose unnecessary burdens on election administrators.
A total of 34 states have laws requesting or requiring that voters show some form of identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arkansas is included on that list because an identification is currently requested but not required.
Seven states have "strict" photo-identification laws that require voters lacking valid identification to take additional steps after election day for their votes to be counted, according to the conference.
Metro on 06/22/2017