Protecting the integrity of Arkansas' elections must take priority over one man's refusal to submit to the state's voter identification law, election officials told the Pulaski County circuit judge who will be considering the legality of the law in the coming days.
State lawyers dispute the claim that Act 633 of 2017 requires voters to have photographic identification. Voters can choose instead to sign a statement asserting their identity and not be bothered showing any ID, they told Circuit Judge Alice Gray on Monday.
Dylan Jacobs, an assistant solicitor general in the attorney general's office* representing the state's election commissioners, said the law furthers the state's interest in making sure that only qualified voters cast ballots in Arkansas elections.
The state's last voter ID law was thrown out by the state Supreme Court in 2014.
Jacobs told the judge that the 2017 law was carefully crafted by legislators who took the high court's decision to heart so they would avoid the flaws in its predecessor.
Barry Haas of Little Rock, a longtime poll worker, disputes the state's position and has sued to overturn the latest law. The new law creates an illegal distinction between voters, he argued.
The ones who show ID are guaranteed their votes will be counted, but voters who do not present identification do not have that assurance, Haas said.
Voters who forgo photo identification in favor of signing the verification form must then have their ballots reviewed by their local election board before they can be tallied, his lawyer, Jeff Priebe, told the judge.
Prospective voters do not need photo ID to register to vote, and federal law prohibits authorities from requiring first-time voters to present identification, he said.
"It's easier to register [to vote] in the state of Arkansas than to vote under 633," Priebe said.
Testifying on Monday, Haas said he won't show his identification. He's met every requirement to vote, he said, arguing that the new demand for ID exceeds the state's authority by essentially requiring voters to repeat the registration process before their votes can be counted.
Haas is asking the judge to block further enforcement of the law until a trial can be held to determine whether it's legal.
Gray, after a seven-hour hearing, did not say when she would decide what to do about Act 633.
State lawyers urged the judge to reject Haas' suit, arguing that he should not prevail in a case where he has deliberately decided to risk to having his ballot rejected.
Attorney A.J. Kelly, the deputy secretary of state, told the judge that Arkansas' "compelling ... interest" in protecting the process outweighs Haas' claim that he's being illegally inconvenienced.
Kelly asked the judge to rule before an April 6 deadline for election authorities to begin distributing absentee ballots.
Metro on 03/13/2018
*CORRECTION: Dylan Jacobs is an assistant solicitor general with the Arkansas attorney general’s office. His job title was incorrect in a previous version of this story.
Print Headline: Election officials defend voter ID