The Republican Party is moving nationally to make it harder to vote, in part because of Democratic success in voter turnout for the presidential and Georgia Senate elections in 2020.
Arkansas is part of the parade of states with dozens of laws to make it still harder to vote.
First up this year is Republican Rep. Mark Lowery’s HB1112 to eliminate a sworn statement that a person is a registered voter as a substitute for a photo ID to vote either in person or by absentee. It was endorsed by a House committee this morning.
Lowery argued for the measure by saying signature verification is an imprecise process. True. Only four states still have signature verification. But the sworn statement is readily matchable as to name, birth date and address. Evidence that people present themselves as someone they are not is almost non-existent.
A photo ID requirement will be a problem for many people who don’t have a driver’s license. A person who forgets an ID or who doesn’t have one would face a laborious process to get their ballot counted. County clerks may provide an alternative ID, if a person has the means and knowledge to get to the courthouse.
This bill will take a two-thirds vote because it amends a constitutional amendment that includes the sworn statement alternative.
Nell Matthews of the League of Women Voters wrote on this bill in a letter to the editor of the Democrat-Gazette today and she repeated her opposition before the committee:
The recent election stirred up concerns about the validity of the election process. In almost every instance, the so-called fraud was a misinterpretation of something seen across a room, an overheard conversation, or an outright false accusation. Yet, despite the facts, some people are still convinced there was massive election fraud. And so, Rep. Mark Lowery has introduced a bill (HB1112) to remove the sworn statement that allows a voter to forgo the need to produce a photo ID or copy of same. He claims that this will prevent voter fraud.
Failure to produce a photo ID at the polling booth or to include a copy of one’s photo ID in an absentee ballot turns that ballot into a provisional ballot that requires review. The voter’s name, address, date of birth, and signature must match the registration card. If any of that is wrong or missing, the ballot is discarded and no vote is recorded.
If this bill passes, the voter who doesn’t have an ID (never issued or maybe just forgotten on the dresser at home) or the ability to make a copy of an ID (access to a copy machine or printer) will still be able to vote a provisional ballot but then must truck that original ID to the county clerk or the board of election commissioners before noon on Monday after an election. All the correct information and matched signatures will be meaningless.
Mr. Lowery, don’t you have more important things to do than try to skew elections?
Rep. David Whitaker of Fayetteville said going to a county courthouse by the Monday after an election to cure a provisional ballot by producing an ID would be an undue burden on many. Lowery insisted the process worked in Pulaski County, but that’s not entirely true. Not all voters whose absentee ballots were set aside got the notice in time to correct problems. And not all were curred.
Loriee Evans of Indivisible Arkansas, a grassroots group, said Lowery’s bill would have produced the disqualification of more than 3,500 ballots in Pulaski County alone. At that rate, it would be more than 25,000 statewide, she said. She said of the provisional ballots that were cured, not a single case was found of someone trying to fraudulently vote.
Matthews also said there’s no evidence of any significant voter fraud in Arkansas. The photo ID requirement is hard for many people to fulfill for the absentee ballot because of the lack of access to copying machines. She noted that a minor error on a voter application for an absentee ballot — a ZIP code error, for example — cannot be cured. She noted too that nursing home and military voters are not required to submit a photo ID and the rules should be the same for all.
Lowery said he made no allegations of fraud but said faith in elections has been eroded and the ID requirement helps restore faith. (Yes, Donald Trump and his enablers have done all they can to erode faith in voting.)
Whitaker said the ID is a smokescreen. People with disabilities will be affected, he said. They don’t have copy machines. The bill will add a “second almost impossible” barrier, getting to a courthouse by the Monday after an election. They might not have transportation. They might be immobile. “That’s why they vote absentee in the first place,” he said.
Rep. Fred Love of Little Rock also opposed the bill. He said it takes no steps to improve the voting system.
Bottom line: This law, if passed (as it almost certainly will be) will result in the disqualification of thousands of legitimate voters. And that is the idea. The poor and elderly will be punished. That is also the idea.
UPDATE: Republican Stu Soffer weighs in:
The current system in Arkansas works just fine and has avoided needless lawsuits. As a serving county election commissioner since 2003, and a former state election commissioner, I urge you to vote NO on HB1112.