Last April, Arkansas’ Republican-controlled state legislature overrode Gov. Mike Beebe’s (D) veto to enact a strict photo ID law for all voters. But while Arkansas is now one of several states which suppress voting by requiring valid photo identification to vote at the polls, a unique and poorly written provision in the bill caused hundreds of absentee voters to also have their votes rejected in last month’s primary. The Arkansas ID law requires that people who show up to vote in person early or on Election Day show “proof of identity” before casting their ballots. That proof must be a driver’s license, a photo identification card, a concealed handgun carry license, a United States passport, an employee badge or identification document, a United States military identification document, a student identification card issued by an accredited postsecondary educational institution in the State of Arkansas, a public assistance identification card, or a state-issued voter identification photo ID card. Such laws have been shown to have both adiscriminatory intent and effect — and to depress voter participation. Even one of the Arkansas law’s strongest supporters, Republican gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson, was initially turned away from voting in his own primary because he forgot his photo ID last month.
But Arkansas is one of a smaller number of states that has also insists that absentee voters prove their identity. Its law requires that the absentee ballot be sent in with a photocopy of a valid photo identification or “a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.” The only exceptions to this rule are for active duty service members and their spouses and residents of long-term care or residential care facilities.
Jim Eichner, managing director of programs for the Advancement Project, told ThinkProgress that such provisions are unusual because absentee voters are not the ones most state legislatures intend to suppress. “The people who use absentee ballots are generally not voters of color, the poor, people designed to disenfranchised. They tend to be more affluent, more white voters. They’re not the target.” But, he noted, such a rule is likely disenfranchise even more voters. “It’s one additional added complication; first you need to have ID, then you have to have access to a photocopier or to pay for a photocopier. In the calculus of voting, any time you make it harder or more inconvenient, you’ll depress turnout. All of it is unnecessary, and in our view it shouldn’t stand.” He noted that some people, especially elderly voters without easy access to transportation, will not have access to a place with a photocopier.