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Arkansas factions call voter-ID measure stifling, preventive

by Hunter Field | October 28, 2018 at 3:16 a.m. | Updated October 28, 2018 at 10:24 a.m.

In the Nov. 6 election, Arkansans are told to provide photo identification before they can cast votes on, among other things, a proposal on whether to enshrine that requirement in the Arkansas Constitution.

Issue 2 -- referred to the people by the General Assembly -- would amend Article 3 of the Arkansas Constitution, adding a provision to require voters to present photo IDs before voting in person or on an absentee ballot.

Arkansas lawmakers in 2017 passed a law with an identical requirement -- Act 633 -- that's now in effect. The Legislature also referred Issue 2 to the ballot.

Republicans for years have tried to make Arkansas the 35th state to enact some sort of voter-ID requirement. The Arkansas Supreme Court in 2014 struck down a 2013 law on the grounds that it added a requirement to the voting process and it didn't pass with enough votes in the Legislature.

In a 5-2 decision earlier this month, the high court deemed Act 633 constitutional. It had passed with a two-thirds majority vote.

Proponents of voter-ID laws say they're common-sense security measures. Opponents, meanwhile, say they're unnecessary and unduly burden the poor and elderly who struggle to obtain valid identification.

State Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, was the primary sponsor of House Joint Resolution 1016, which became Issue 2. She said the measure would stop voter fraud before it happens.

"It's preventative," Lundstrum said. "Everybody throws deadbolts on their front doors. You want to prevent accidents before they happen. You don't wait until after. It's the same reason we all lock our doors at night."

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Holly Dickson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said more than 1,200 lawfully registered voters didn't have their votes counted under the 2013 law before it was tossed. She fears the same will happen under Issue 2 if it passes.

"Most people who vote don't have problems showing identification," Dickson said. "So it's hard for them to understand that there are some voters who have difficulty showing or getting an ID."

Issue 2 differs from Act 633 because it doesn't include a provision that allows those without valid IDs to sign sworn affidavits and cast provisional ballots. That concerns Dickson, who said it will likely result in lawfully registered voters losing their right to vote. She said if Issue 2 is approved, it will likely be challenged in court.

Lundstrum and state Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, who was the primary sponsor of Act 633, said lawmakers plan to include the provisional ballot component from Act 633 during the legislative process of implementing Issue 2 if voters approve it.

Lowery said he and supporters of voter-ID laws don't understand opponents' arguments that obtaining IDs is too difficult. He and Lundstrum noted that free, valid photo IDs are available from all 75 county clerks in Arkansas.

"I don't understand this issue of difficulty," he said. "What's difficult about having an ID? You have to have an ID to pick up a prescription or to get a job. There's a long list of things you have to give an ID for."

Dickson noted that an estimated 11 percent of Americans don't have a government-issued photo ID, and she said in Arkansas many rural clerk's offices are difficult to access, making it difficult for people in those areas to take advantage of the service.

The elderly and members of minority groups comprise the bulk of people without IDs, Dickson said.

Lowery also dismissed criticism that voter-ID laws are "solutions in search of a problem." He cited research by the Heritage Foundation -- a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank -- that has found 1,145 instances of voter fraud in the U.S. since 1982, and about 950 cases in the past decade.

The Democratic Party of Arkansas in its 2018 policy platform "opposes intrusive Arkansas voter identification laws. Supported by no evidence or facts, such efforts needlessly and egregiously disenfranchise Arkansans."

Reed Brewer, a party spokesman, said the state should issue voter-ID cards with photos on them if Issue 2 passes.

"If Issue 2 passes, the people of Arkansas have spoken," Brewer said. "The next secretary of state and Legislature should implement the new voter-ID requirement without delay. However, the state of Arkansas should commit to ensuring all registered voters know the rules and have government-issued voter registration cards that have their photos. If our goal is to secure the ballot box, that should not come at the cost of prohibiting any citizen from exercising their right, regardless of who they vote for."

The state Republican Party in its 2018 platform said voter-ID laws protect the "sanctity and security of the ballot box." The party chairman, Doyle Webb, attacked Democrats for opposing voter-ID legislation.

"Democrats are intent on creating universal voter registration and mail-in ballot laws while opposing voter-ID laws, which would create a massive loophole for voter fraud to occur," Webb said. "We believe the sanctity of the vote should be reliable, protected and accountable. When the referred voter-ID amendment is passed on the ballot, Arkansans will be further assured at the polls that their vote counted."

No ballot question committees have registered to campaign for either side of the Issue 2 debate. Issue 2 was the lone ballot proposal to escape being challenged in court. Opponents and supporters of the measure agreed that the proposal has widespread support and will likely pass with a large majority -- a conclusion backed by local and national polling.

Sunday on 10/28/2018

Print Headline: Factions call Issue 2 stifling, preventive

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