Benton Smith, attorney for the Democratic central committee in Craighead County, tells me the first wrinkle in the state’s now voter ID law has emerged.
In Tuesday’s special election for state Senate, 134 absentee ballots were returned to the county clerk. Of those, 83 were put in a provisional ballot box and not counted. “Most, if not all of them, were because of voter ID,” said Smith, who was an observer as the absentee ballots were opened and tallied. “Most did not have proof of voter identification.”
Absentee ballots must include proof of ID now, just as election day and early voters at polls must produce ID. Smith said he had no idea how many provisional ballots had resulted from voters at polls without IDs.
But the absentee ballots are tricky, because he says the law is silent on whether an absentee voter should be notfied that their ballot has been set aside. Smith contends there are ambiguities in the new law that might leave open an interpretation that an absentee ballot should be counted, ID or not, if it’s a duly registered voter on the rolls. The Craighead County Election Commission will take up the matter at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Smith said.
Smith said the likeliest interpretation is that the ballots won’t count. Republican John Cooper won by such a decisive margin that the disqualifications aren’t important for electoral reasons. But Smith said his guiding philosophy was that “every vote should count.”
I learned about this late in the day and haven’t been able to get a response yet from what advice the secretary of state or the state Election Commission might think of the situation. The absentee voter packet included a page of information about including an ID, Smith said.
Smith said some absentee ballots have always gone uncounted for a variety of technical flaws, but the number, as a percentage of those cast this year, “is certainly eye-opening.” He said one ballot had been identified as that of a prominent local resident who’d been voting in local elections for 60 years or more.