A House panel on Wednesday advanced legislation requiring Arkansas voters to show photo identification before they can cast a ballot over objections that the measure would be burdensome to voters and the state.
By a 13-6 vote, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the voter ID bill proposed by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest. The panel last week delayed a vote on the measure so that a fiscal impact study could be performed.
The Bureau of Legislative Research said in its analysis released Wednesday that the bill could cost the state $300,000 in equipment and training needed to provide photo IDs to voters who don't have them. The fiscal study said that any incremental costs for the secretary of state's office to conduct outreach and voter education "are expected to be zero."
Some lawmakers on the panel said they were concerned that the bill would not provide funding for the state to educate voters about the changes.
"It's going to be very difficult to educate the public about this," said Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono. "I'm a little unclear how we're going to get by that obstacle."
Martha Adcock, general counsel for the secretary of state's office, said that education efforts would be easier because voters are already asked for identification and most people carry their ID with them.
Arkansas currently requires poll workers to ask for identification, but people don't have to show one to vote. Previous attempts to pass a voter ID law in Arkansas have failed.
King said it was premature for lawmakers to question voter outreach efforts before the policy is passed. He also said such efforts could easily be included in the state's existing voter education efforts.
"From my discussions with the secretary of state, I think it can be covered in their normal process," he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said the voter ID requirement would violate the state and U.S. constitution and pledged to file a lawsuit to block it if it becomes law.
"We're not weighing our options," said Holly Dickson, the group's legal director. "We're trying to prevent voters from being disenfranchised in our state, and if we can't prevent it at the capital we'll seek to prevent it at the courthouse."
The measure now heads to the full House. Speaker Davy Carter said he supports the bill and expects it to pass the chamber.