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Arkansas bill to tighten voter ID requirements, explained

by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | February 4, 2021 at 10:56 a.m.
Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, asks a question during the Education Caucus of the Arkansas General Assembly's meeting on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020, at the Association of Arkansas Counties building in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The Arkansas House voted this week in favor of a bill to amend Arkansas' voter-identification law by removing a section that allows voters without proper ID to have their ballots counted by signing their name.

Back up: What does current law say about voter ID?

Voters must present a valid ID at their polling place such as: a driver's license, passport, employee or student ID from an accredited college in Arkansas, a military ID or other state- or federal-issued photo ID card.

Absentee voters can send in a copy of their photo ID.

If a voter does not have proper ID on-hand or an absentee voter doesn’t send a copy of their ID, they can cast a provisional ballot by either:

Returning to the county board of election commissioners or the county clerk by noon on the Monday after the election and presenting valid ID

Signing a statement swearing their identity

Under the latter method, the provisional ballot will be counted unless the county board of election commissioners determines a reason not to, such as finding out that the person is not registered to vote.

How would the rule change under the bill?

It would eliminate the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot with a sworn statement.

Why do some want to change the current law?

Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, the sponsor of the bill, said it was not inspired by a prevalence of voter fraud, but rather the lack of any uniform standard for county officials to determine whether a voter's signature matched with his or her sworn statement, a method some may use to determine a provisional ballot’s validity.

On his social media accounts, however, Lowery has repeatedly shared inaccurate posts depicting the 2020 election as rife with fraud and challenging President Joe Biden's win.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that advocates for voter ID laws, lists just three instances of voter fraud in Arkansas dating back to 2002, according to its nationwide database. The most recent case was in 2016.

What are opponents of the bill saying?

"The idea that there's massive fraud out there, that we need to protect our election process and our ballots, is just not based on fact," Nell Matthews, president of the Arkansas League of Women Voters, testified to the committee.

Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville, said some constituents are concerned about getting to two different places to have their vote counted.

Read more comments from when the bill was before a House committee.

What happens next?

The bill is headed to a Senate committee for consideration. If it passes through the committee, it will go before the entire chamber for a vote.

Read more on the process of how a bill becomes a law in Arkansas or sign up for our politics newsletter.

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