The Pulaski County Election Commission voted today to ask Attorney General Dustin McDaniel for an opinion on the new voter ID law. A special election on a Pulaski Tech property tax is set March 11 and the commission is anxious to avoid the problem that turned up recently in a state Senate special election in Jonesboro.
In Jonesboro, a majority of absentee ballots were disqualified because they didn’t include photo or other specified forms of ID, as the law requires. One of the questions arising from the election was whether the law allows a “cure” period for absentee voters as it does for in-person voters. That is, if a person doesn’t present an ID when a vote is cast, may that person have until the following week to present an ID and thus allow the ballot to be counted? Following advice from Secretary of State Mark Martin, which was contrary to that of the state Election Commission, Craighhead County officials allowed a cure for absentee ballots, but only five turned up to get their votes counted.
County Attorney Karla Burnett outlined some eight questions for McDaniel to consider, Election Commissioner Chris Burks said. She raised, for example, an equal protection argument. If an absentee voter doesn’t have the same “cure” period provided an in-person voter, isn’t that a constitutional violation?
Burks said McDaniel also will be asked the general question of the constitutionality — under both state and U.S. constitutions — of the voter ID law. McDaniel issued an opinion on the law after it was introduced and raised potential problems then. Burks said the absentee question wasn’t considered then and could be added to the broader picture on the law.
An attorney for the ACLU, which along with the Arkansas Public Law Center is seeking a plaintiff to challenge the law, was present for the meeting. The Commission vote was unanimous, including that of Republican Commissioner Phil Wyrick. Burks said the action was about guarantee as full participation in voting as possible, not a partisan issue.
Maybe so. But the voter ID law is part of a national effort to depress turnout of voters inclined to vote Democratic. Democrats believe — and Republican fervor for the law doesn’t disabuse the notion — that Arkansas Republicans see the voter ID law as a key element of 2014 election strategy.
The letter has been delivered an an expedited answer requested given the coming election.