While the state Legislature was debating the bill that became Arkansas’ voter ID law last year, Rep. Jim Nickels, D-Sherwood, argued that it had to meet a higher vote threshold than other bills. Nickels, a lawyer, said at the time that the bill to require voters to show photo identification at the polls required a two-thirds majority vote to pass because it would change the Arkansas Constitution by adding to the requirements to vote in Arkansas, which are set in the constitution. The bill’s supporters argued that the law would not change the constitution because it would only affect procedures at the polls. They said the eligibility requirements to be a voter would stay the same; the bill would merely require voters to prove they are who they say they are. “I feel vindicated,” Nickels said Friday, a day after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox struck down Act 595 of 2013.
Fox ruled that the law imposes new restrictions on voter eligibility not contained in the state constitution and therefore is unconstitutional. He also specifically mentioned that it failed to get a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.
The Republican-backed legislation passed 51-44 in the House and 22-12 in the Senate in nearly party-line votes. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe vetoed it, but the Republican-controlled House and Senate overrode the veto — which in Arkansas requires a simple majority vote.
In an eight-page statement of his findings of fact, Fox said Thursday that in its 1965 decision in the case Faubus v. Fields, the Arkansas Supreme Court said the Legislature “may, by a two-thirds vote in each house, amend Sections 5 through 15 of the amendment, so long as the amendatory legislation is consistent with the amendment itself.” Fox noted that “the passage of Act 595 of 2013, both before and after the gubernatorial veto, was by less than two-thirds vote in both houses.”