The House State Agencies committee gave approval to a measure to require voter ID in Arkansas by means of a constitutional amendment on Wednesday. House Joint Resolution 1016, sponsored by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs), now advances to the full House of Representatives. If approved by both chambers of the General Assembly, the amendment would be referred to Arkansas voters on the 2018 ballot.
"This amendment will assure the voters that ... their vote will count," Lundstrum said. "At every single step in life — using a credit card, checking in at a hotel — we have an ID. And the reason being, for security. The one thing we don’t have a mandated required ID is when we go to the ballot box. Our whole system is built on voter security."
Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) said that such activities as checking into a hotel were not equivalent to the right to vote, since voting is a constitutionally guaranteed right. He asked Lundstrum whether Arkansas really had a problem with voters being impersonated by others.
"Every state, including Arkansas, has faced voter fraud," Lundstrum replied. "Will this eliminate all voter fraud? No. Will it slow things down? You better believe it. ... Can I give you specific answers in Arkansas? Not off the top of my head."
Sabin said, "I know there’s voter fraud, but this is a specific type of voter fraud that this constitutional amendment is designed to try to combat against. You mentioned that you don’t have any examples and we don’t really have any data to show this is a problem, so is it really necessary to put something like this in our constitution? We actually do have examples of people who have been disenfranchised as a result of voter ID being enacted previously, but we don’t have any examples of voter fraud occurring through impersonating a voter."
"Yes, actually we do," Lundstrum insisted. "I apologize, I didn’t bring a list of them with me today."
Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville), the chair of the State Agencies committee, said he once had a client at his law practice who told him she was forced to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day because she was told at the polls that someone had already voted using her name. (Ballinger said he represented the client in a different matter.) "Somebody cast a vote in her name, and so her vote, if they voted differently than her, her vote was essentially offset by somebody who committed fraud and voted on her behalf," Ballinger said. "If someone’s smart about committing voter fraud, they select somebody who doesn’t vote on a regular basis, and then it’s never known. So maybe it’s been anecdotal … but my argument would be, if that could happen to one person, it could happen to many."
HJR 1016 beat out two other proposals put forth by Republican lawmakers in the State Agencies committee Wednesday. One joint resolution, by Rep. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville) would have enhanced legislative control over the state Highway and Transportation Department. The other, by Rep. Trevor Drown (R-Dover) would have given the legislature increased power over state-supported colleges and universities by modifying Amendment 33 to the state Constitution. Both were opposed by the powerful public institutions they targeted, with Highway Department Director Scott Bennett testifying against Dotson's bill and University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt speaking against Drown's.
In contrast, requiring photographic ID at the ballot box is a topic supported by most Republican lawmakers. Although HJR 1016 ran into some resistance in committee from the committee's few Democrats — as well as the sponsors of the other two proposals — it easily passed on a voice vote.
Under new rules this session, either chamber can propose one referred amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. The Senate has chosen a so-called tort reform proposal to limit damage awards in civil lawsuits, although it still must win approval in the House. The two chambers can also jointly refer a third proposed amendment to voters, if they so choose.
Lundstrum's measure is one of at least two voter ID proposals in play this legislative session. A bill by Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) has already gained passage in the House and will likely soon win approval in the Senate as well. However, some Republicans remain concerned Lowery's bill will be insufficient to withstand a court challenge, since a previous voter ID measure was overturned by the Arkansas Supreme Court. They feel a referred constitutional amendment is the only sure route to creating a permanent voter ID requirement in the state.
Lundstrum said Lowery's bill was "well done" but that the amendment was still necessary for "the same reason we lock our front door and throw the deadbolt on ... the belt and suspenders argument, if you will." Creating a constitutional amendment would ensure future legislatures couldn't undo the voter ID requirement, she said.
This reporting is courtesy of the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.