Controversy surrounding voter identification laws has now reached the Natural State. On April 1, 2013, the Arkansas state legislature completed a bicameral majority vote overriding Gov. Mike Beebe’s (D) veto of a law requiring voters to show photo ID. The law, which is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2014, provides for the state to issue a free photo ID to voters who lack one. The law also allows a voter without photo identification to cast a provisional ballot on election day. The provisional ballot will be counted if the voter reports to the county clerk or county board of election commissioners by noon of the Monday following the election, with proof of identity or an affidavit showing the voter is either indigent or has a religious objection to being photographed. Voter identification laws have proven contentious throughout the country, and the new Arkansas law is no exception. When questioned about the impetus behind the new legislation, State Senator Bryan King (R), primary sponsor of the bill, stated, “The purpose of the law is to ensure electoral integrity.”
Senator King also noted that common activities, including boarding a plane or obtaining a library card, require photo ID, and stated that Arkansas poll workers already ask voters to present photo ID, leading many citizens to believe that a photo ID requirement is already in place. According to Senator King, he and other sponsors of the legislation considered evidence from states such as Georgia, Indiana, and Kansas, indicating a correlation between requiring voters to present photo ID and increased voter participation.
Nevertheless, critics of the new legislation contend that the law will effectively disenfranchise some voters. When asked about the new law, Dale Charles, President of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, stated, “The law attempts to disenfranchise as many minorities as possible, specifically African Americans, Hispanics, and the poor. There is no evidence that voters had abused the system prior to enactment of this law, and there are already mechanisms in place in Arkansas to prosecute voter fraud.”
Other critics have drawn an analogy between voter ID laws and the polls taxes of the Old South, arguing that both are designed to place small burdens on voters that some will inevitably be unable to meet.