UPDATE Bills on voter ID, change in school elections advance


LITTLE ROCK — A bill to require Arkansas voters to show photo identification when they go to the polls advanced in the House on Wednesday.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 13-6 to endorse Senate Bill 2 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest.

The vote was delayed a week following a request for a report on how much the measure would cost the state. The bill would require the secretary of state’s office to provide county clerks with equipment and training to issue free ID cards to voters who request them.

A Bureau of Legislative Research report submitted Wednesday said implementing the measure would cost $300,000 for hardware, supplies, installation and training. The annual cost after that was projected to be negligible and any cost would be absorbed by the secretary of state’s budget. The cost projection matched exactly the projection that King gave last week.

In last week’s hearing, supporters said the measure would curb voter fraud while opponents testified it was unnecessary and could disenfranchise segments of the state’s population.

On Wednesday, Rep. Butch Wilkins, D-Bono, said he thought it would be difficult to educate voters about the change.

“This is a massive change in what we’re doing,” he said.

Martha Adcock, general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, which supports the bill, disagreed. She noted that poll workers already ask voters for ID, though they do not require it.

“I think most people carry their ID with them,” she said. “For a gentleman, the vast majority, they’re already going to have it with them when they go to the polls. Now you may have a female who may, we more traditionally might leave our wallets in the vehicle, and they may have to run out and get something.”

After some discussion, the committee voted to go straight to a vote without further debate and without hearing any witnesses. The chairman, Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville, said the measure received ample debate last week.

Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, objected.

“At least in our committee we should have an opportunity to have discussion,” he said. “There are those of us who would be cut out by some of our peers here from even being able to ask a question, and that is totally undemocratic.”

The bill cleared the committee in a party-line vote, with Republicans voting for it and Democrats voting against it. The bill goes to the House.

Also Wednesday, the committee endorsed House Bill 1357 by Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock, which would require school elections to be held in May and November, and would combine them with state primary and general elections in years when those elections are held.

Kerr said the bill would save the state money and reduce voter confusion by requiring fewer elections. A fiscal impact statement by the Bureau of Legislative Research showed that the measure would be revenue neutral, though Kerr disagreed.

Kerr also amended the bill to exempt school board elections. The bill would still apply to millage elections.

Mickey McFatridge of the Arkansas School Boards Association testified against the bill, saying that under current law, when a millage vote fails it can be brought up again at several times, but “this would stop that from happening.”

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, a former school board member, asked McFatridge, “Is it common knowledge … that if you want to get a millage passed it’s better to pick a date when you don’t think you’ll get very high voter turnout?”

McFatridge said that “since you’ve been on a school board I assume you have an idea.”

“I have heard that proposed before,” Westerman said.

The bill goes to the House.