New Voter ID Bill Advances Out Of Arkansas House Panel

Jan 25, 2017

Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) sits at the end of the table, presenting HB1047, to reinstate an Arkansas voter ID requirement.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

A revamped effort to establish a voter identification requirement in Arkansas is making headway in the state Legislature.

Republican Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle is the sponsor of HB1047, which would amend the Arkansas Constitution and require voters to show photo identification at the polls. It’s the second attempt to bring a voter ID statute to the state.

In 2014, the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously overturned a voter ID law passed by the legislature the previous year. Deceased former Justice Donald Corbin opined that any voting qualification beyond age, residency, citizenship and registration was a violation of the state constitution.

In testimony before the House of Representatives Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, Lowery pointedly referenced that court decision.

“This has been crafted very carefully to make sure that we’re not adding a qualification to voting. That we’re really just clarifying the voter registration process,” he said.

Although Corbin’s opinion dealt with the constitutionality of voting qualifications, Lowery pointed to the concurring opinion of three of the seven Supreme Court justices: Karen Baker, Jo Hart and Courtney Goodson. The three argued at the time of the ruling that the legislature could have successfully changed the voting requirements with a two-thirds vote. The 2013 Arkansas General Assembly had to rely on a simple majority to pass the legislation and to override a veto from Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.

In his testimony, Lowery acknowledged that while there is no empirical evidence of widespread voting fraud, he said he has heard anecdotes of individual instances. But he said the purpose of his bill is to assure the public of the integrity of elections.

“There is an eroding lack of confidence in the electoral process by the American people,” he said. And Lowery said his proposal is “one way to proactively address the confidence issue.”

He noted that a number of different forms of photo identification could work under his proposal. He said the Secretary of State’s office still has the ability to issue photo ID’s to those in need, a holdover from preparations for the previous, stricken law. Under his legislation, voters who are unable to display photo identification before voting would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot that could eventually be certified by a county board of elections if the voter’s identity is later proven.

Lowery argued that photo ID’s are widespread in society. They are required to travel on a commercial airplane and to be admitted entry to the White House. 

Opponents of the bill argued that legislators should work to increase access to voting rather than restrict it. After the hearing, American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas Legal Director Holly Dickson told reporters Lowery’s bill fails to include some safeguards for those who could potentially be denied at the polls.

“There’s no mechanism in this bill for the state to know who was affected, how were they affected, was there anything nefarious behind that activity or not? There’s never been a provision to look at the impact on the voters or the impact on the system and there’s not one now,” she said.

Representatives from the ACLU complained after the hearing that testimony was abruptly cut off. Only a representative of AARP Arkansas spoke against the bill. Jefferson County Republican Election Commissioner Stuart Soffer spoke in favor of it.

Since Lowery’s bill does amend the Arkansas Constitution, it will require a two-thirds majority to pass the House and Senate before heading to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has indicated he is generally supportive of voter photo ID requirements.