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On second try, Arkansas Senate OKs voter-ID bill

by Michael R. Wickline | March 9, 2017 at 5:45 a.m.

The Senate on Wednesday voted to approve a bill that would require voters to show a photo identification in order to cast ballots.

The 25-8 vote on House Bill 1047 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, sent it back to the House to consider a Senate amendment to the bill.

Amendment 51 to the Arkansas Constitution authorizes lawmakers to amend voter-registration measures if at least two-thirds of both houses of the General Assembly approve the changes. The 100-member House earlier voted to approve the bill 74-21. The 35-member Senate earlier failed to get enough votes to pass the bill; Wednesday's vote was the second try.

There was no debate on the bill. Tuesday, the Senate voted to refer to voters in the 2018 general election a proposed constitutional amendment on the same issue. That amendment would require the General Assembly to enact to a law to require voters to present a photo ID to vote. The proposed amendment is House Joint Resolution 1016 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs.

Proponents of voter ID contend that it will increase voter confidence and guard against voter fraud. Opponents counter there is little fraud of this kind, and the identification burden on voters would unduly restrict the right to vote.

"I don't think the court is going to overturn this," said Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, who sponsored a 2013 voter-photo-ID law that was overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2014.

"It is a much different court today," he said in an interview after he voted for HB1047.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit over the 2013 law. Four of the court's seven justices ruled that the law improperly added a qualification to the voter qualifications in the state's constitution. According to the constitution, Arkansas voters need only be age 18 or older, U.S. citizens, Arkansas residents and properly registered to vote. The identification requirement was tantamount to a fifth qualification, according to the court's majority opinion.

HB1047 was amended in the Senate to clarify that a provisional ballot cast by a voter may be counted, rather than required to be counted. The bill would allow a voter without photo ID to sign a sworn statement attesting to his identity. A provisional ballot would be counted after the voter's signature is verified on his voter-registration card.

Under the bill, a voter casting a provisional ballot also may return to the county board of election commissioners or the county clerk by noon on the Monday after the election and present a document or identification card.

Under HB1047, identification that would be accepted includes: driver's licenses, photo identification cards, concealed-handgun carry licenses, U.S. 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. The secretary of state's office has equipment for each county to provide the free cards.

A Section on 03/09/2017

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